Playing with frequencies...

Sep. 24th, 2017 09:41 am
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Research suggests that the 4,000 to 5,000 most frequent words of a language account for up to 95 percent of written text, and the 1,000 most frequent words account for 85 percent of speech. It would therefore seem logical that studying these "most frequent" words will result in the greatest "bang" for the "buck" of effort invested when acquiring foreign language vocabulary, especially using the MMM.

For now, I will consider just the 1,000 most frequently occurring words in Spanish.

I managed to get my hands on a copy of "A Frequency Dictionary of Spanish," by Mark Davies, published in 2006 by Routledge. There is an alphabetical index of the dictionary's words at the back of the book, and after a little of this and a little of that, I managed to compile a table showing the number of words starting with 'a', 'b', 'c', etc. among the first 1,000 most common words. The table data can be conveniently represented by the following chart.

The chart does not take into account what I call "outliers," i.e., words that start with 'ñ' or with accented letters ('ú', 'ó', etc.), as there are so few of them and my goal in compiling this chart was simply to gain an understanding of how many of the 1,000 most common words started with 'a', 'b', etc.

The chart suggests that, if I wanted to create individual memory palaces for each letter, three ('k', 'w', and 'x') would theoretically not require a palace at all (but I'll make 'em anyway), eight more would require 20 or fewer stations, another eight would require between 21 and 50 stations, another five would require between 70 and 90 stations, and just two would require between 120 and 130 stations.


I think this will help me initially, from the perspective of assigning "richer" palaces (those with more stations) to store words that start with more frequently occurring initial letters.

As far as what to do when the time comes to expand the scope of learned vocabulary (the number of words starting with 'c' will quintuple by the time I get to 5,000 words)... well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it!

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A monument to Mikhail Kalashnikov, the designer of the AK-47 automatic rifle, was unveiled a few days ago in Moscow.

The base of the monument depicts, in high relief, a number of infantry weapons inspired by the design of Kalashnikov's AK-47. It turns out the design along the base includes, as documented on Facebook by a former employee of the Great Patriotic War Central Museum, an exploded drawing of a German Sturmgewehr 44 (aka, StG 44), designed by Hugo Schmeisser and placed in production by the Germans in 1944.

According to the headline of the Russian-language article reporting this, the scupltor at first denied there was anything wrong (Мы пока не можем найти специалиста, который утверждает, что этот чертеж не АК-47 [We have not been able to find an expert who says this drawing is not that of an AK-47]) but later admitted the error, saying "...там, где мы ее брали, написано „Автомат Калашникова“. Что-то из интернета" ["...the place from which we got this—somewhere on the Internet—had labeled it the "Kalashnikov Automatic Rifle"].

Leaving aside the fact that this was not the first time the scuptor, one Salabat Shcherbakov, had permitted a German infantry weapon to appear on a Russian war monument, it does underscore the hazards of assuming (that word, again) the infallibility of the Internet.

On a somewhat related note, a couple of weeks ago, I read the following tweet:

Now, I don't know whether, with this tweet, the author is deliberately trying to fan the flames of fear, uncertainty, and doubt or is simply excessively lazy and proudly ignorant. A few seconds of Internet research would reveal the "AK" part of the weapon's designation to stand for автомат Калашникова, which are Russian words—which sorta makes sense, given the nationality of the designer and the country in which the weapon is in use, no?—that transliterate as avtomat Kalashnikova, i.e., "Kalashnikov Automatic Rifle." (And that "47 bullets per pull of the trigger" business? That suggests the author knowledge of firearms was gained by watching endless reruns of The A Team.)

So which strategy is better: Unquestioning acceptance of whatever you find on the Internet or a parochial adherence to ignorance and fabrication of "facts" to fit preconceived notions?

Me, I think both suck.



Sep. 23rd, 2017 12:29 am
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I'm back home again, after driving our son down to UCLA for his move-in. It's a long drive—6.5 hours or so—but practically brief compared to the 10-11 hour (or 12 hour) trips to San Diego to take our daughter to school. It's a much more manageable distance.

The weeks leading up to this were tough, but the trip and separation itself a little less so, mainly because he was actually ready to be going. Well, emotionally, anyway. I still wound up packing most of his stuff, because neither of our children inherited my godlike Tetris skills.

Originally, we'd planned for both parents to drive south for the journey, but HalfshellHusband's broken hip keeps him from going anywhere. That was hard on him, having to stay behind again and say goodbye so abruptly. We went through this with our daughter too, but that was mainly because she'd packed too much stuff to fit a third person in the car!

So now I'm back, in the empty nest, and it is strange and likely to feel stranger over time, at least for awhile. HalfshellHusband saw the orthopedic surgeon a week ago, and while the pieces of bone have moved a little (PIECES, not just a crack as I'd originally hoped), the current thinking is still that surgery might possibly be avoided. Given HSH's tendency to overdue, I'm not so sure. He's supposed to keep weight off of that leg, but I catch him free-wheeling around without his walker or even the cane—or trying to make dinner on the sly because it's "not that hard," even though standing up for long periods is forbidden. This is usually followed by a long, sleepless night due to pain. :( I'm really dreading trying to juggle all of those chores and responsibilities while also having to nag HSH to stop helping when he shouldn't. Give me strength...

Other news... Work=grief, and I have no idea when/if I'll be able to get away for a few days to visit my mother. We've watched a couple of movies (The Girl On The Train was much twistier than I had expected), I've read some books, I've listened to more Chris Cornell (because I'm already feeling sad, and the mood aligns), and now a future of tackling the in-home chaos awaits me... And to think, Fall is usually my favorite season. \o?


Sep. 21st, 2017 09:24 am
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In a piece published at Aeon, science writer Lynne Kelly, for whom I have the highest regard based on her book The Memory Code, starts off with the following sentence:
In Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective novel A Study in Scarlet (1887) we learn that Sherlock Holmes used the most effective memory system known: a memory palace.
I believe this statement is in error, blemishing from the start what I thought was an otherwise interesting article. I say this because my recollection of that first Holmes tale was entirely different, which I just confirmed by doing searches through the version of the story available at

While the modern incarnation of Holmes, courtesy of the BBC and starring Benedict Cumberbatch, does mention the memory palace technique, the only substantive commentary on Holmes's memorization strategy that I recall in A Study in Scarlet was the following:
[Holmes's] ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

“You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”

“To forget it!”

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.” (emphasis mine)
Clearly, by his own admission, Holmes believes the brain is capable of storing only a finite number of knowledge "chunks." In putting the quoted words in Holmes's mouth, I suspect Conan Doyle wanted to quickly fill in the outlines of Holmes's character for the reader and therefore chose an concise (if quirky, by modern standards) explanation that would resonate with educated readers of his time. (I find it inconceivable to think that mnemonics for memorization were not already part of the medical student's "bag of tricks" when Conan Doyle studied medicine!)

Myself, after having read (several times, now) Kelly's description of the lukasa and how she made one ("I grabbed a piece of wood and glued some beads and shells on it") and what she was able to do with it ("[encode] the 412 birds of my state: their scientific family names, identification, habitats, and behaviour") I remain at a loss to figure out the critical encoding step, especially as there would appear to be no pre-conceived pattern to the gluing of the beads and shells.

So if I understand this correctly—if one can create a piece of memorization hardware from beads and shells glued to a piece of wood—why can't one do the same, say, with oil paints, a brush, and a canvas? Anthony Metivier has some things to say about this in a recent YouTube video that addresses the question "Can Memory Palace practice increase happiness?" As I am still curious, I'm adding this question to my list of things to examine in greater detail.


P.S. I was able to zero in on the text in the story quickly because I was struck by it during my first reading of the story, back about a half century ago, and I recalled Holmes's use of the word "attic" to describe one's brain.

P.P.S. To make sure my own recollection was not faulty, I embarked upon some "due diligence" while I had the "find" box open on the Gutenberg page in my browser. I searched for key words—such as "memory" (1 occurrence), "palace" (1), "memorization" (0), "remember" (17), and "association" (0)—no occurrences of which turned out to be germane to Holmes's view of the way the mind works.

This and that...

Sep. 20th, 2017 08:54 pm
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Alla came up with a marvelous fish-based soup, of which I consumed two bowls just now.

As I spooned the goodness into my mouth, I got to thinking of how certain people (Galina and my late stepfather come to mind) simply cannot stand cooking aromas in the house, especially aromas of cooked fish.

As for me, perhaps it is simply a case of crass sentimentality, but I recall with fondness hanging out with my grandmother and immersing myself (so to speak) in all of the wonderful smells that wafted through her kitchen when I stayed with her on weekends and for extended periods during summer vacation. If I close my eyes, I think I can still smell the exquisitely prepared budget cuts of meat that she prepared with gently caramelized onions and mashed potatoes.

It was my grandmother who taught me the rudiments of finding my way around a kitchen, without making a fuss about it. I fried my first egg under her watchful eyes. I toasted—burned, actually—my first piece of bread on a venerable folding contraption that was designed to sit over a gas burner with slices of bread carefully leaning on what was essentially a truncated wire pyramid. She didn't get upset about it; she took the burned toast and showed me how to scrape off the really charred parts so I could eat the rest.

In other news, I gave the curing fish an extra day to cure and then unwrapped the result. (And do I wish you could see the smile on my face right now!) The end product is quite tasty!

Long-term planning...

Sep. 19th, 2017 09:49 am
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So a check on the location of the truck with my flooring revealed that, at 6:45 am this morning, it was at a rest stop in El Paso, Texas. As the tracking page still showed delivery on "September 18-19" and delivery today seemed so doubtful, I decided to bite the bullet and call the Home Depot.

After touch-toning my way through the obligatory maze of options, the system excitedly informed me that my order had been delivered on September 15, and how else could I be served.

"Connect me to a representative," I said.

After another series of number presses (so that I could be connected to the tight department), I spoke to a flesh-and-blood customer service person, and eventually, we determined that delivery would likely occur Thursday, and that I would be called before delivery was to be attempted.


The day so far...

Sep. 18th, 2017 10:48 am
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Both translations have been sent, and invoices so far this month are looking good.

Speaking of translation, I still get "bacn" (which I look at as low-value email you agreed to receive—such as notifications from social media sites or sellers you've bought stuff from—that might actually be of interest every once in a while) from (a site for translators and interpreters). The vast majority of such communications are of the "jobs" category, which wouldn't actually be a bad thing, except for the fact that the amount of information in the email message is far short of what's needed to properly consider whether a job is worth applying for.

Let me amend that last: It's been years since I've received any email of value from the site, simply because it's devolved into a place where customers seek—and typically get—work done for rock-bottom, cut-rate prices. A couple of years ago, in fact, one of my clients mentioned that, based on historical performance, any candidate translator who includes membership with the site in their CV advances to just one step short of being rejected for assignments.

That said, this morning, I received two such emails, minutes apart, looking for someone to translate a software manual for a C++ library (read: computer programming). The difference? The first message stated a completion deadline of the 23rd; the second, of the 20th.

That's one heck of an acceleration in the schedule. (Good luck with that!)

In other news, I checked in with Home Depot, and as of about 9 am this morning, the shipment was still in Phoenix, but is now described as beingn "1 day away." Be calm my throbbing heart!



Sep. 17th, 2017 09:12 pm
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It had been an age since I made bread in the oven, the principal obstacle to which was the absence of a suitable baking stone, so when a very reasonably priced pizza stone became available at Aldi's, it fired my imagination. So, Friday night, I mixed up a batch of "artisan five-minute dough" and I put it in the oven yesterday morning.


Alla made some absolutely mind-boggling borshch during the day, and a good time was had by all concerned, eating her richly hearty soup with my dark, freshly baked bread.

Our recent foray to the Einstein Brothers at Bay Area and El Camino nudged a memory of my having once "cured" a piece of salmon by soaking it for an extended period of time in all-too-little salt and all-too-much whiskey (we're talking back when we lived in Jacksonville, before 1988). I seem to recall the result was edible, but I never essayed this approach to fish preparation again. I wondered what the Internet might dig up in this regard, so I went online and found an interesting (and almost as important, easy-to-follow) candidate recipe at Macheesmo.

I scaled the recipe back for a slab of salmon weighing just 1 pound and followed the straightforward instructions. At this point, the fish is curing in the fridge and is about 1/3 of the way through the process. So far, everything is looking good.

In other news, the floor coverings we ordered from Home Depot are (according to the tracking web page) still in Phoenix and are "2 days away." Since I'm not normally at the delivery address (the Webster house), I'm going to have to keep an eye on this tracking information so as to avoid planting myself at the house to receive a truck that's not going to arrive that day. I may call Home Depot to find out if there's a simpler way to do this, but I'm not feeling all that charitable toward their customer service right about now, so my confidence in obtaining an acceptable resolution is not high.

In still other news, I finished one assignment (which now just needs despeckling to be completed) and am about 1/3 of the way through a second. I plan on rising early tomorrow to make sure all my ducks are lined up in this regard.

Lots of stuff to so this week. I better get rested.


My Own Private Zodiac

Sep. 16th, 2017 10:07 pm
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I listened with interest to Anthony Metivier's podcast on memorizing the zodiac, then adapted what I learned to achieve the same goal. I decided to go with a "dream sequence" approach (you'll see what I mean, below) instead of a memory palace because (a) I've long ago internalized the ordering of months and what might be considered the arcane names of the signs (e.g., Sagittarius, Gemini, etc.), so if I create a sequence linked to just the months, I figure I'm golden, and (b) I'm a little short on spare memory palaces at the moment .

Here we go...

I am standing in a narrow enclosed roadway, looking at Fredric March behind the wheel of a Dodge RAM (Aries) pickup truck that is pointed at me. I hear "Give Me That Old Time Religion" being sung as it was in the movie Inherit the Wind. The truck advances, and I have no choice but to move backward, through a gate...

...into a bullfighting arena. There is a bull (Taurus) in the arena, being chased by a dancing woman with a silencer-and-shoulder-stock equipped pistol (April Dancer, who was The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. back in the late 60s... Her character was that of a high-tech spy—you just had to be there).

The bull sees me, and starts to charge. At this moment, twin clowns (Gemini) wearing inflatable (Mae West, i.e., May) life jackets climb into the arena from opposite ends and start signaling upward, toward...

...a large quadcopter equipped with crab (Cancer) pincers, which is piloted by (and making sounds like) Rocky the Flying Squirrel (a woman named June Foray was the voice of Rocky). The craft maneuvers to a point directly above me ...

...grabs me, lifts me out of the bull's reach, and flies away, depositing me gently in a clearing the middle of a forest. A lion (Leo) is resting in the clearing. The animal ignores me, preferring to groom itself. Every time it licks itself, fireworks (July) go off.

I am tapped on the shoulder by a virgin maiden (Virgo. How can I tell? Hey, cut some slack, it's a dream!) wearing only a beige toga (as worn by Augustus Caesar). She wordlessly takes me by the hand and leads me through the woods... a paved road where there is a truck scale (Libra) where she leaves me. I note that the scale shows weight by the position of a hammer "needle" on a sickle "dial". (Hammer-and-sickle -> statue of Worker and Kolkhoz Woman in Moscow -> my Labor Day image -> September).

As I continue to examine the scale, a scurrying sound attracts my attention. I turn to see a scorpion (Scorpio) closing in on me. Its head is a Jack O'Lantern (October).

An arrow suddenly appears in the scorpion's head, killing it. I turn my head and see an archer (Sagittarius) dressed like a Pilgrim (November). He motions for me to follow him and we set off down the road.

We shortly arrive at a bridge, where I look down and see Santa Claus (December) trying to harness an animal that is half goat and half fish (Capricorn) to his sleigh.

Santa catches sight of me and points at a two-headed guy (Janus -> January) picking up goatskin water bags, in preparation for carrying them somewhere (Aquarius). The two-headed guy points to a bag that he can't pick up because of his load and asks for help, so I grab it and follow him.

He leads me to a swimming pool that stands before a replica of the Iwo Jima monument (February, because the invasion of Iwo Jima began that month), where he sets down his bags and relieves me of mine. As he thanks me for my help, I notice there are huge fish (Pisces) in the pool.


P.S. Looking at the above, it seems like an awful lot of text to explain something that's fairly straightforward. However, the way this plays out in my mind is a lot faster than it takes to explain it.

Regarding date ranges. Keeping in mind that the start/end dates for these signs are different, depending on the source you consult, I'm relying on a "standard" range of the 20th of the "sign month" to the 20th of the following month, except for July through November, where I rely on the 23rd to the 23rd.

P.P.S. That said, from a practical perspective, it'd be instructive, I think, to figure out (or have help figuring out) how to "attach" additional data to images already created at a memory palace station (for example, how might I "attach" the various symbols—e.g., ♈, ♉, etc.—for the signs?). Lynne Kelly hints at this in her work, noting how, for example, "the Navajo memorise over 700 insects to three levels of classification, along with all their characteristics." I cannot help but assume that such a system did not just pop into existence fully formed. It had to have evolved, no?

A pretty good day...

Sep. 16th, 2017 09:52 pm
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I say that, even though I did not get a whole lot of translation done.

Alla and I did drive around a bit this morning, looking for garage sales. At about the only one we ran across, I picked up a copy of Allen Ginsberg's Howl, and Other Poems, published by City Lights Books in San Fransisco, for next to nothing. Personally, I have never been big Ginsberg fan, but I bought a copy of the same paperback when we lived in California (as a souvenir of having visited the bookshop), and his Howl sort of set the standard for me for free verse, as so often since then, I've read entirely too many attempts at free verse that seem as if the author simply decided to insert carriage returns randomly in an otherwise mundane text.

Dromgoole's, our local pen and paper emporium, held a Wahl-Eversharp event during the day today, and Syd Saperstein, who brought the company back into existence, made a presentation after business hours, at the pen club meeting, that I found pretty informative., The major takeaways (for me) of Saperstein's talk was the importance of assembling a top-notch set of contractors when manufacturing a product (he actually hinted that this information was on the level of a trade secret) and an explanation of a curious technique (involving eBay) for managing the expectations of potential customers with regard to the price of a new product (vis à vis the price of vintage products of roughly the same style).

That said, it's not as if I got zero translation done today. I plan to get even more completed tomorrow.

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It might even be said I felt completely human today.

Alla and I hit the Einstein Brothers place near Bay Area and El Camino to scratch a certain bagel–cream-sheese–lox itch, after which we went to the Webster house, which showed no signs or aromas of lingering mildew. A check of the Home Depot shipment tracking suggests the floor covering we ordered will arrive next Monday or Tuesday.

A pile of work arrived today. I got the immediate stuff out of the way first (after breathing a prayer of thanks that it wasn't very large in size), leaving the rest to be done some time this coming weekend, which I think is feasible.

Alla and I got to talking about various television shows we watch, and in the end, said she is surprised I have not watched any episodes of Game of Thrones, as she thought it would match my taste in shows. So, I suppose, just for laughs, I shall track down the first season and give it a try, but not over the next few days, as I have a pile of stuff to do (and not all of it translation).


Better today...

Sep. 13th, 2017 08:18 pm
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...but I still slept a lot.


Strange day...

Sep. 12th, 2017 09:52 pm
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Well, I did finish both outstanding translations, but by about noon, I felt pretty crappy. What's more, so did Alla, which led me to think that perhaps there was something in the air, but there was nothing I could put my finger on.

I spent most of the afternoon napping, which makes me wonder about the quality of this coming night's sleep,but there's nothing much that can be done about that.

I plan on having an outstanding day tomorrow.


Must've been a doozy...

Sep. 12th, 2017 07:53 am
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I have come to notice that, on the second day after chemo, I am not in tip-top form. It's sort of a blah feeling, accompanied by lots of lying down.

However, the way I felt yesterday might have received amplification from it being 9/11, with my thoughts inevitably going back to that day and thinking about where I was, what I was doing, and what was going on around me. (The curious can go check the archive and read what I posted in those dark days.) In any event, I got next to nothing done yesterday, napped a lot, and ultimately fell asleep fully clothed.

But that was yesterday.

This morning, I feel much better, so much so that I plan to tackle the assignment that came in yesterday, and essay other accomplishments.


Echoing in my head

Sep. 11th, 2017 10:14 am
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While I was in college,Read more... )
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