Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I hate the IPA

The International Phonetic Alphabet is the most-popular alphabet in the world for showing how to pronounce words. Why? Who knows. It's actually not very popular in the United States, resulting in unpleasant editing conflicts on Wikipedia.

People use special symbols to show how a word is pronounced because letters are pronounced differently from language to language and within languages — especially English. The two most popular systems for doing this are the IPA and diacritics (accents). Diacritics are especially popular in American dictionaries.

To illustrate, if I wanted to tell you how to pronounce the word cat, I would write [cæt] using the IPA and /căt/ using diacritics. You may ask what æ is. Well, it's a ligature (merge) of an a and an e, representing a hard a. You already knew that right? Of course, there's no chance of confusion with the Latin æ, or the Icelandic æ, both pronounced like i as in hi. Lets try another example: if I wanted to tell you how to say shhh!, I would write [ʃ] in the IPA and /š/ using diacritics. The ʃ is a long s, used in the old days to represent the letter s in the middle of words. The š would be recognized by those who speak Czech and (probably) Polish for what it is, while those who see the long s at first don't know what to think. Strike two.

Of course, this is assuming those IPA characters are displaying in your browser. Internet Explorer has a problem displaying them in certain fonts. Complain to an editor from Europe on Wikipedia about it, and they'll often tell you, "Just download Firefox [a web browser]." Well, I've got a better idea: why don't those people admit that their way of doing things is wrong?

Business drawbacks

The IPA is also expensive to print because of the extra characters that have to be typeset. It's confusing to most people. So, since common sense dictates that you tailor your product to your customer, using the IPA makes no sense most of the time. It's not easy to type, either. If I want to type ä, I can switch keyboard layouts by typing CTRL + SHIFT + 2 and then pressing CTRL + '. (You have to add a layout first in the Regional and Language Options box in the Control Panel.) There isn't an IPA layout, though. So, I have to open MS Word → InsertCharacter, then scroll down to IPA.

The IPA is made up of 107 symbols. Only a fraction of these are ever used, and many are identical. For example, compare [a] and [α] (diacritic symbol, ä). Both are pronounced like the a in father, and it's my opinion that they actually are identical. However, some linguists will quickly correct you to say that the tongue drops forward with [a], while it deflates backward with [α]. Now, don't punch him -- it's his job. But, still: who cares whether the tongue falls forward or backward? The answer is, no one except linguists. So, why are these symbols used in mainstream British dictionaries? I have no clue, and people from England generally don't, either. But, don't try to use a diacritic transcription on Wikipedia, unless you enjoy getting your edits reverted.

I'm not saying that diacritical systems in use today are perfect. For example /ī/ as in die is really two sounds: /ä, i/ (i like the e in eel). Likewise, some, like The American Heritage Dictionary, dropped some diacritics (e.g., š in favor of sh). Still, then why not perfect it? Even without reform, it would still be better than the IPA.

For a sample chart of characters using diacritics, click here. For a chart of IPA characters, click here and scroll down.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Baroque music is the best in the world

My favorite music by far has always been Baroque art music.

There are two types of western music: artistic (sometimes called classical) and popular. Pop music includes country, jazz, rock, and dance, while art music includes the other styles. My impression is that popular music deals with things that are immediate and trivial, while art music deals with more-serious and longer-lasting issues. Hence the name classical, implying subjects that are timeless and common to many people. For example, Gustav Holst’s The Planets symphony is made up of movements devoted to each planet in the solar system. Bach’s Passion According to St. Matthew deals with Jesus’s crucifixion. Popular music more often describes things like a broken relationship, or even a just a single get-together. Ballads dating back to the Middle Ages are also a form of pop music (in my opinion). Another characteristic of pop music is simplicity. Music describes things with sound. So describing a single person or even a single mood entails a simple song. Pop music can be fun to listen to (I enjoy trance) but listening to art music is much more rewarding once you get used to it.

If you want to understand what I mean, you need to listen to some Baroque art music. Some call it classical, but Baroque and Classical are really types of art music. Baroque flourished from the late 1500s until around 1750. Here’s where it fits in the timeline of art music:

Medieval → Renaissance → Baroque → Classical → Romantic → Impressionist → Neoclassical → Minimalist

The word baroque can mean “ornate.” It’s a fitting name for the genre, as it is the most elaborate, complex, and therefore expressive and therefore masterful musical style ever used. The greatest composers of the era were Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), George Frederic Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi. Bach’s work should be emphasized — I actually believe he is the best musician of all time. Although the work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) is more complex than Bach’s, it is less entertaining because it is too subdued. Mozart was using a different style called Classical (also known as galant). I sometimes listen to Mozart, but I never listen to anything after him.

Over time, classical music has become less classical — less timeless and meaningful. Some Baroque compositions sound like they’re telling you someone’s life story. But, after Handel, they began to be simplified. Ludwig van Beethoven composed in the Romantic style, which was a step forward in this simplification. Romantics like Beethoven were really into emotion. In order to convey a louder, blunter (and what he thought was emotional) style, Beethoven made his themes more noticeable and used less variation within his works. But I just don’t get emotional listening to it because it means very little. How can I be passionate about music that's so corny? Listening to an orchestra was an exciting experience then, but today we hear orchestral music in elevators and in cars. Beethoven was able to awe his audience with his simplified approach, but today it is not awe inspiring to most people.

As the chart above shows, the pattern continued until the present day. Today, you have Minimalist composers like Philip Glass, who hang on notes for 10 or so seconds at a time. The faster songs have a single melody (tune) which changes very little — if at all — during the song. These compositions seem to depict single emotions, possibly even single moments in time. Many call it Minimalist, but I have another name for it: background music, a genre invented much earlier. In other words, it has almost no substance. This will no doubt doom the genre to be seen in the future as the most-corny of all artistic styles.

Unfortunately, the first artistic pieces younger people are exposed to are later varieties played as short clips or bland background music during a movie or in an office. They tend to think of art music in general as over dramatizated and bland. The reason they think this is that they really are listening to bland varieties of music. If you think I’m being picky, you’re right. But, you have to be when it comes to things as important as music. I enjoy life by being picky.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Test driving cars you can't afford

I've always loved speeding. When I was younger and riding with my brother, I would ask questions like, "Why don't you pass this car?" or, "Why are you going so slow?" On my first night out after I got my license, I got pulled over for speeding. I became addicted to it, and it escalated over time.

Later, my friends and I began test driving cars that we couldn't afford. We started when I was around 17. We would pick out cars that were way out of our league from the classifieds. I didn't stop until I was about 20 years old. I ended up testing over 60 of them.

On one occasion, we visited an owner of a 1993 Corvette. The owner was on the phone, too faint to attend our test-drive due to a tragedy. He only had enough energy to show us the monster engine under the hood and hand us the keys. After reaching our halfway point, we switched seating positions with Brian now at the helm. We were both desperate to unleash the car’s fury on a straightaway. Brian became over-confident, though. Emitting a whimper like he always did when he knew his death was possible, he downshifted a gear and attempted to pass a line of cars at about 130 miles per hour on a narrow two-lane road. It was too close, though, and we came a hair-length short of blowing into a semi-truck head on. Just in time, he swerved violently towards a car on our right wing. Luckily, our neighboring motorist slowed his car down abruptly, letting us in. So, we barely made it. His whimpers became more and more frequent as we began sliding over the shoulder like a Frisbee and into a ditch. In mid air, we both began yelling in unison, “Ahhhh!” like kamikaze pilots before a crash. As the inertial forces pushed my head into my shoulder, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that he was being bounced in all directions like a pinball. “No seatbelt,” I thought. When all was said and done, we walked away, or rather, ran away. But we made it home.

We were never sued for the $20,000 car because we were minors, and the district attorney's office lost our files, so we were never prosecuted for fleeing the scene or for reckless driving. Still, Brian stopped coming with me on test drives. He had learned that he was not invincible, but I was still convinced otherwise.

My favorite of all the cars I drove was a 1998 Mercedes SL600 convertible. Its MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) was $125,000 new. It was only slightly used, with around 15,000 miles, so they were asking about $85,000 for it. When I got to the building, the owner's secretary gave me the keys and let me drive away, saying, "Have fun." I was shocked. The car had a 6.0 liter, 389 horsepower (hp) V-12. So, I took it straight to Interstate 25 and topped it out. It had a governor (speed control device) that limited it to 155 MPH. But, you would be shocked at how fast it got there. Without the limiter, it probably would have done 185 MPH (if I can use the 400 hp Ferrari 360 Modena as a guide). It was a heavy car (4455 lbs -- more than a Cadillac DeVille). But, it handled better than all of the cars I drove. It had an electronically-controlled suspension and electronic-stability control (ESC — you know, that skid-control device that the NHTSA plans on making us use even though it can actually make your car plow forward). ESC was considered exotic then, and Mercedes was able to make it work very well — not over-doing it. The speeds I was able to take the car around corners were ridiculous (ca. 100 MPH — seriously).

I pulled up to a traffic light in town, and I looked over and saw two good-looking girls in a car. They waved, and pressed a piece of paper onto their window with their telephone number written on it. I tend to get kind of nervous in those situations and I realized that they would probably have second thoughts if they found out who I really was, so I backed out. I accelerated to 125 MPH, saw a street I wanted to turn onto a little over a block ahead, slammed on the brakes, and made it. It was quite a remarkable machine. After about an hour, I pulled back into the parking lot. The secretary was waiting for me, smiling with a walkie-talkie. When I got out, I tried not to wobble, as the inertial forces tend to make you very disoriented after such rides.

In a future post I will relate how my driving later caught up with me and made my life miserable.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Another story

I recently posted a story to Uncyclopedia and, unlike previous articles, it was deleted almost immediately. The editor who deleted it said that it wasn't funny. Humor is of course not the same as value in general, so, I figured that I should post it here and ask readers whether they think it is funny or whether they think it has value. Feel free to write what you really think.


♫♩I got my lay-day-bay. In to my freedom. Lay-day-bay.♫♩ This isn't a map to the future, but to the present. I've got a present for you: it's called frankness. Only at my end will you see why.

I am trying to be this way, billboard buds. These people bring actions to an end. They answer questions for ME. They tell me why I'm here. Why we can't communicate. And why this room is misty. I’ve been down that road before!

Boca edition. I mean, my professor was giving a lecture, but then he suddenly turned around and began chewing him out, bro! Seduction is a myth, bro! "Huh, Loader?" (Loader is the name of my dog.) He's still not exactly pretender-face, but still pretty good!

WORDS SUCK. Look, can they even BE French? For example, Jean walked up to a counter and began talking to the clerk in French. She acted surprised, and turned partly around, stuttering, "I'm -- sorry -- I don't," but he kept talking, getting louder, and acting angry. He then grabbed her, raising his fist and inhaling in anger. He then understood his mistake, turning away and touching his temple.

And when we fought the last war with Asia, we almost lost. They built a canal that almost reached our capital, and we lost the war in our hearts. But we defeated them.

“We don’t want to destroy things,” said our president. “We just want to win the war.” This frankness f women is more than mis before.

The House of All

I am going to represent something to you, bud. And let go of my hand, Loader. Goodbye everyone. Goodbye blue skies, empty streets, and open doors. //< < //goodbye// > >//
November, November. Where is November?
November yes, November no.
Exist yes, exist no.