Interesting stuff #4

Another collection of interesting stuff I’ve learned on the Internet – in this case since about mid September. The previous installment is here.

  1. A brief overview of linguistic typology. I’ve known most of this stuff for a long time, but this article filled in a few gaps in my knowledge.
  2. Geoff Pullum on the grammar of “once.
  3. Pompeii myth busting.
  4. I don’t like beer. Nevertheless, I was interested to read this.
  5. News about fossils improves our understanding of very early animal life, very early land life, and where fish fingers come from. Meanwhile, geological discoveries reveal the world’s oldest rocks.
  6. I intend to check out ChaosPro sometime. I could use a more modern fractal generation program, and the hook for me is compatibility with FractInt. [Update: I had all sorts of problems with ChaosPro when I eventually tried it out.]
  7. Some thoughts about milestones in the evolution of humanity.
  8. Face recognition in crows.
  9. It seems that agriculture has been around longer than we thought. (I don’t understand half the technical genetic stuff, but I got the link here.)
  10. In astronomy, gravity from beyond the cosmic horizon. And, closer to home, snow on Mars.

In offline news, I recently visited a bookshop and bought a copy of the 150th anniversary illustrated edition of the first edition Origin of Species. I’ve read bits online, but now I can read it in bed. (If I had an audio edition I could close my eyes, but that might take some compression.)

Illustrating Children’s Picture Books

Every Wednesday evening in September, I went to a class on Illustrating Children’s Picture Books at the WEA. This is the fifth WEA course I’ve completed, the others so far being Wonders of Ancient Egypt, Magic For Beginners, Singing For Beginners, and Great World Thinkers and their Great Ideas. I won’t be doing any more in the foreseeable future.

There are all sorts of reasons for choosing a particular WEA course. Sometimes it’s to build upon a skill or interest that you already have, but in this case I wanted to try something new. I really enjoyed it. For one thing, it had a much more social atmosphere than the other courses I’ve done — there was plenty of opportunity to informally and spontaneously share our thoughts and ideas. I was the only male in the room, which suits me just fine, but I wouldn’t have predicted that.

Classes often started with spontaneous drawing exercises, such as drawing squiggles (in the technical sense popularised by Mr Squiggle), line drawings and five-minute sketches of named objects. I won’t share mine; they are not very impressive.

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Interesting stuff #3

Here are some of the most interesting things I’ve learned on the Internet since 21 August. My provisional nominations for the next installment of this series can be previewed here.

  1. I remember being fascinated by power series in mathematics class at university. If you know everything about an infinitesimal segment of a function, then using power series you can make the entire function magically materialise, just like resurrecting a vampire from a speck of dust. Now Matt Springer of Built On Facts has recently linked to an old post of his about an unusual function where things aren’t that straightforward.
  2. Also in mathematical curiosities: using the Fibonacci sequence to convert between miles and kilometres (this one’s done the rounds of a few blogs).
  3. Not being interested in sport, I’ve often said that televised sport should be presented as a wildlife documentary. Here’s a science news article that could easily be referenced by such a program.
  4. Other recent animal stories from ABC News In Science have explained that dogs can learn the body language of cats and how glow worms know when to switch on.
  5. A Catalyst article on the human body clock (as opposed to, say, the glow worm one) contained a lot of interesting stuff.
  6. A little study of how people name colours.
  7. A neurological examination of how people respond to unfairness represents some of the methods used in modern brain science.
  8. A budding technology: holograms that respond realistically to light being shone on them. (The article doesn’t extrapolate on the description of the holograms as six-dimensional, but I suppose that means three dimensions of space and three of lighting.)
  9. New evidence concerning forests and carbon dioxide absorption.
  10. This one’s a little quirky: gender and the perception of movement.

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Past tense in English verbs

In a previous post, I began a series about English verbs as described in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. This is the second installment of that series, in which I’ll discuss how the English language uses the past tense. That will lay some groundwork for an overview of the auxiliary verbs, which is what I plan for the third installment.

There may be errors herein, but I will correct any that I become aware of as soon as possible.

When we talk about the past tense, we usually mean the verb form exemplified by words such as looked, cooked, walked, talked, thought, taught, wrote, rode, flew and drew. In The Cambridge Grammar this form is called the preterite, and it is used in a variety of ways.

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