Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Undercover Economist (Tim Harford)

An orthodox economist, who writes well, considers everyday situations as examples of economic theory. Particularly enlightening about coffee shops and supermarkets (which are used as extended examples of price discrimination). A good fun read.

Much more fun is the agony aunt column he writes:

An Utterly Impartial History of Britain: (or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge) (John O'Farrell)

A surface recount of British history since Roman times. Meant to be funny but it tries a bit too hard. Irritating at first, and I wouldn't have carried on if it hadn't been recommended by a good friend. After a while the style settles down a bit and it becomes readable (or I got used to the style), and in fact occasionally amusing. Few surprises and I don't feel that I can remember the less interesting things any better than before reading it.

The one point it does make that stuck in my mind is that the 'Glorious Revolution' might equally well be referred to as 'the last time Britain was successfully invaded'. In the sense that if the King had fought and won, it would certainly be referred to as 'the last unsuccessful invasion attempt'.

The language instinct (Stephen Pinker)

An awesome book. Changes the way that one thinks about the language one speaks and the process of acquiring other languages.

Life changing in the sense that after reading it you'll look at an everyday activity in a new way.

Tennis lesson (Groundstrokes revision)

Always turn shoulders

One-handed backhand grip is found by pointing racket straight forward, and turning it to point left, whilst relaxing the right hand so that it ends up flat on the grip, with the top part of the hand perpendicular to the racket head.

In all strokes the plan is to lift the ball up and a long way over the net. The net is the enemy here.
This results in topspin, which brings it down again.

Therefore bring stroke from a long way back and finish with it over the shoulder. Intersecting with the ball is a secondary consideration.

For forehand use off-arm as counterweight, moving it in opposite direction to racket and other arm. Helps balance.

For backhand initially have hand on racket throat, far behind you. After initial racket movement release with off-hand, and then reverse direction of movement so that it can act as counterweight as for forehand.

Concentrate on lifting ball over net.

A tennis lesson plan (the volley)

Volley Lesson (Group of 6 )

Volley is performed with 'hatchet grip'. Pretend racket is axe: chop wood one-handed
Other hand on throat of racket until just before shot.
Shot requires one inch of movement. No more!
Count to five in preparation (restrains movement?)
Shoulders must turn.
After every shot return to central position (racket forward, hand on throat)

When the ball lands in the boxes, return it, then:
Change grip
Run forward.
Do not get too close to net

Exercises (work through a bag of balls, each student in turn)

1. Volley to one another
2 Coach feeds backhand volleys (remember to count to five while waiting for ball)
3 Coach feeds forehand volleys
4 Coach feeds either hand at random. Respond with correct volley.
5 Volley to one another
6 Coach feeds forehand groundstroke, run in, change grip, coach feeds forehand volley, coach feeds backhand volley
7 Finally play game with one another. Serve and play in half-court. If ball lands in box then advance to net and finish point by volleying.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Translating Poetry

There's a space of texts which are grammatical English.
There's a subspace of text which have meanings
There's a further subspace of texts which have a regular structure, the poems.

Various subspaces of poems. Relevant structures different between languages.
English poems have stress patterns, rhyme, alliteration, para-rhyme.
Latin poems have syllable length patterns, no rhyme (or alliteration?)
French poems have syllable count and rhymes, and rules are strange (silent e's sometimes count, according to antique pronunciations and liaisons not used in ordinary French)
Also caesura rule (word may not cross half-way boundary)
Attempts once made to do syllable-length poems in French, but not fashionable now.

Take a particular text from the space of French poems.
There is a meaningful English text whose meaning is closest to the French poem.
It is unlikely to be an English poem.
There may be a poem which has a reasonably close meaning

Meaning metric, goodness as poem measure, goodness as text measure.

What is translator wishing to achieve?

Closest meaning?
Best poem within a certain meaning distance?
Best poem according to some combination of goodness as poem and closeness of meaning?

Writing poems is very hard. Unless translator is accomplished poet, poem will not be worth reading as poem.

Why do poetic translation at all?
Try to find closest meaning, or go for good English prose with close meaning? Same problem to define good English prose. Is bad English which best captures original meaning the goal?

Do we want an English version which will help a non French reader read the French?
Do we want to capture the French rhythm in English?
Do we want a version which will help a French reader with the words and idioms that he does not know?
Do we want to produce good English poems by using the ideas from the French poem?
Is this translation or (laudable) plagiarism?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Midnight's Children (Salman Rushdie)

Magical Realist allegory about the 20th century history of India. Won Booker prize. Strangely manages to be both charming and dull. I've taken to keeping it by the bedside. Ten pages or so has me both quaintly amused and asleep.