Archive for January, 2017

Now and the 80s

Saturday, 21 January, 2017

So, I realised what the current world situation feels like.

I remember growing up in the 1980s. As kids we were existentially worried about a lot of things.

  • We worried about AIDS – a frightening disease with no cure that could turn into an unstoppable epidemic.
  • We worried about the ozone hole – a major environmental issue that could lead to vastly increased rates of cancer and deleterious effects on plants and animals.
  • We worried about global nuclear war – a political danger that threatened to kill pretty much everyone in horrible ways.

It seemed like there was a pretty good chance that none of us would have the chance to grow up to be adults, because civilisation might well not last that long. It was this background of all-pervading existential angst that underlaid the 80s.

But now isn’t an exact parallel to the 80s. The difference back then was:

  • We had medical science that people trusted to do life-saving research and less ineffective folk remedies, anti-science, and unhealthy paranoia about “germs” leading to rampant overuse of antibacterials.
  • We had an international agreement to ban ozone-depleting chemicals, and every nation carried through with it within a few years, rather than ignoring it as “too hard”.
  • We had Russian and American leaders who were actually working together to try to defuse hostilities and reduce the threat of a major war.

Oh, and the other good thing about the 80s was that angst led to a decade of cool protest songs and other music. :-)

Europe 2016 diary: day 4

Monday, 16 January, 2017

Tuesday, 1 November, 2016. 21:27

We slept poorly, waking up around 04:00, and then having trouble getting back to sleep. Eventually we got up around 07:00 and decided to have the hotel breakfast, since we didn’t want to get ready to go, take half an hour to walk to the town centre, and then discover no places open to get some breakfast from. Jason had told us last night that today was a public holiday (presumably for All Saints Day), and so we thought maybe a lot of cafes might be closed.

We filled up on the breakfast, with muesli, fruit, yoghurt, bread, scrambled eggs, and croissants. There’s a Swiss thing called Ovomaltine, which comes in a few different forms. One is a chocolate spread like Nutella with crunchy bits in it. M. tried that one some croissant and liked it.

After eating, we rugged up for the morning cold. I pulled out my beanie and gloves for the first time on the trip. We walked south along the main road to the centre of Fribourg, about half an hour away. Part of the way in we passed a circus, apparently named Knie, set up with a big top tent and various outbuildings and sideshow attractions. Jason later told it that the circus was advertising everywhere but was only in Fribourg for a couple of days before moving on.

Iron and gold
Balcony in central Fribourg

Towards the centre of town, the industrial area we were staying in gave way to older buildings with steeply sloping roofs, stone walls, fountains, and other more interesting architecture. We passed through the old wall of the city, which had a section well preserved, with a guard tower. Inside we walked past an amazing old school building, with a stone lion and an eagle on the two front corners, several churches, and a museum of arts, and then the Gutenberg Museum. This led us to the impressive monolithic square tower of the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas. Unfortunately the front facade was partly covered in scaffolding for some restoration work.

We were meeting Jason at 10:00, but we were ten minutes or so early, so we went inside the cathedral to get out of the cold. Priests were setting up and a few people were seated, with more arriving as we wandered around the interior. There was obviously a service going to begin at 10:00. The inside of the cathedral showed its age a bit, and was dark and gloomy, with heavy pillars supporting the upper structure. The most interesting decorations where actually outside, on the portico around the main doors, which was covered in stone sculptures of saints and a bizarre scene above the doors showing some sort of damnation events, with people being marched naked, boiled alive in a cauldron, and devoured by giant beasts.

Read more: Walking around the old town of Fribourg, spectacular river views, driving across the Swiss countryside, the shores of the Thunersee, fancy dinner in Interlaken

English spelling

Saturday, 14 January, 2017

I was thinking I should post more stuff here. So I’ll try to add some things that I’d consider for Twitter, but which are too long to tweet. First off the bat:

I was reading a thread in the IWC forums that turned to discussing English spelling, and how terrible the “i before e except after c” rule is, and how it makes people actually mis-spell words sometimes.

Now I’ve been a native English speaker all my life and I’m a pretty good speller, but there are still some words I have trouble spelling. And of course if you were to say a word I was unfamiliar with and asked me to spell it, I’d pretty much just be guessing.

On the other hand, I’ve been learning Italian for just a few years. One of the exercises I do is listen to a computer generated voice reading Italian sentences, and transcribe them by typing them out in Italian (there are also different exercises where I translate into English). And as long as I listen carefully enough, I can always get the Italian spelling correct, even if it’s a word I’ve never heard before.