Monday, June 30, 2014

Reading The Little Prince

When I was in sixth grade, in San Diego, we were required to take Spanish. We learned the basics, like:

Hola, Paco. ¿Como estas?

Muy bien. ¿Y tu?

Estoy bien, gracias.

I was pretty good at it, but I resented having to learn it, so I was determined to hate Spanish.

At the end of that year, they handed out questionnaires to the students who got an 'A' in Spanish (yes, I liked getting A's, even if I had to speak Spanish to get them), asking us to choose a language preference for junior high for a new program they were starting. Instead of waiting until high school to teach languages, besides sixth-grade Spanish, they were going to start in seventh grade and needed to know how many kids wanted which languages. We were to rank in order our preference for Spanish, German, or French. I picked French first, German second, and Spanish last.

After all the votes were tallied, there wasn't enough interest for a German class, so the kids who picked German got their second choice. Everyone else got their first. We ended up with two Spanish classes and one French class, and I was thrilled not to have to take Spanish ever again.

In seventh grade, I learned the basics of French, like:

Bonjour, Guy. Ça va?

Pas mal. Et toi?

Ça va bien, merci.
Our teacher started us, the first two weeks, with nothing but memorization and repetition. We were not allowed to see written French until the third week, and when we did, it blew our minds. So many letters to say so little! Like the word for water, pronounced "oh," is spelled eau. It took a while, but eventually we got the hang of spelling and pronouncing.

I studied French all three years of junior high, and at the end of ninth grade, my dad retired from the Navy, and we moved to Montana where they didn't have the special program that started languages in seventh grade. So I took Senior (fourth-year) French when I was a sophomore and had to go my junior and senior years without it. Then I took a full year of it my first year of college. By the end of that year, I was mostly thinking in French and spoke it fairly fluently for someone who learned it in school.

Sometime during all that studying, though probably not in the first year, one of our teachers mentioned Le Petit Prince - The Little Prince - a classic children's book that I think we read in class. I loved it.

A long time later, after I was married and had little kids, I saw the book, in French, in the bookstore, and I bought it to refresh my skills. It was every bit as wonderful as I remembered. Even the French words seemed to make it more charming. In the first chapter the author talks about a book he read as a child, about the wildlife in the virgin forest. The phrase for wildlife is animaux sauvages, which is literally, "savage animals." I just love it!

In the evenings, I would sit both kids on my lap and "read" the book to them, translating from the French with only the occasional help from the French-English dictionary. I loved reading the story, and they loved hearing it.

Eventually, I found the book in English, and I bought that one too.

It made things easier when I needed help with my translations. I simply had to flip to the page with the fox picture to see that apprivoiser means "to tame."

Time went by, and the books got packed in boxes for all our various moves, only to be pulled out again whenever I came across them. I always went for the French version and read at least the first few chapters to make sure I still could. I hadn't realized how well-ingrained in my mind those chapters became.

Last week, in my nightly Bible reading, I finished reading it all the way through. After the close of Revelation, I went to my bookcase shelf with all my Bible-studying books, looking for a topical book to do before I start my next time through the Bible again. I selected one that has a workbook to go with it, and when I pulled the two books out, The Little Prince, in English, was tucked inside the cover of the workbook as though I hadn't paid attention when I had put it away. I'm not sure where the French one is.

I brought The Little Prince to work to show to one of the guys I had mentioned it to not too long ago, and I made it available to anyone in our group who might want some light reading at lunchtime, but there were no takers. So I picked it up to read over lunch myself.

It's not the same. It's in English.

I keep hearing the French in my head as I read it. The dedication page ends with, "To Leon Werth when he was a little boy," but I hear, "À Léon Werth, quand il était un petit garçon." In the first chapter, the picture book called "True Stories" is "Histoires Vécues." The boa constrictor is un serpent boa. And in the second chapter, the little prince demands over and over, "Dessine-moi un mouton."Finally, I put the book down. I couldn't read any further for all the French interruptions.

One of these days, I'm going to have to go hunting for that familiar, beloved white cover. And then I'll sit down in a cozy spot with a nice cup of hot tea and the blue-covered translation on the table beside me, and I'll start reading. And the characters and the drawings and the words - en français - will come to life for me once again.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

What's That Word?

There's gotta be a term for when you go to YouTube (or the internet) and start watching videos (or reading articles), and there's another related video (or article) that catches your eye. So you click on that one, and then another one, and another, until you've gone from the political to the heartwarming to learning how to make fire from a 2-liter bottle of soda, and you look at the clock and see that two or three hours have passed without your having accomplished anything.

But I don't know what that word is. Or even if there is one.

But anyway, I did it again today.

It started when I was checking my twitter feed. Somebody had a link to Brit Hume describing the motivations of the Tea Party, which he nailed. Then when I tried to reply to one of the comments, YouTube made me log in, which put me at the YouTube Home page, where there were a bunch of "Recommended" videos, along with the merely "Popular" ones.

They recommended a video of a dog whose military owner came home from deployment, and that led to a brother surprising his sister at her graduation, and then the Ellen Show where a military family got to Skype with Dad, who was still deployed. After that one, I found a British reunion of a Royal Navy dad and his daughter, right after his daughter got finished singing before the Queen. I love the way the girl runs to her father. And then Toby Keith had a reunion on stage for a military wife and her returning husband. Those reunion videos always make me cry.

I didn't want to keep getting up for Kleenex (no, I wasn't smart enough to bring the Kleenex box to my desk), so I moved on to other things.

This one, on the material properties of fire ants in large quantities, was fascinating and creepy at the same time. I'm not sure why this was in the Recommended list for me, unless it was because a few months ago I spent part of a Saturday doing this same endless rabbit trail through YouTube but with science-y, survival-type videos.

On the Popular list, today anyway, is this short video of why relativity isn't always relative, or something. I'm a little surprised whenever I see science stuff listed as popular, because most people don't admit to liking science.

And then I noticed for the first time (yes, I realize everybody else in the world who is internet savvy knew this years ago) that I have a YouTube Playlist, which is all the videos I've "Liked." Most of them are songs, so then I had to find some more songs because some of my newer favorites weren't there. Like Big Daddy Weave's Redeemed and The Only Name (Yours Will Be), The Afters' Broken Hallelujah, and Hillsong United's Oceans. And I just now noticed that I need to add Mandisa's Overcomer.

So that's been much of my day, and I still don't have any term for the YouTube (or internet) wanderings, beyond "rabbit trail." I guess I'll have to go with that one for now, unless you've got a better one.


California was struck by a 5.1 magnitude earthquake last night a little after 9:00 pm. The epicenter was in La Habra.

Twitchy has a round-up of photos of the damage around Los Angeles, and my favorite is this one.


I live in Oceanside (It's at the bottom of the map at the USGS link, above), about 100 miles away from the epicenter as the crow flies. At the time of the earthquake, I was at my desk unwinding with some mindless computer games, and I felt an odd sensation of movement without actually moving.

My desk chair wasn't rolling. None of my stuff was moving. The blinds weren't swaying. So I told myself it was probably just some unconscious muscle twitching in my leg making the chair feel as though it was making the slightest of motions.

About a half hour later, I checked my Twitter feed and saw tweets about an earthquake. Aha! I hadn't imagined it after all. The preliminary reports had it as 5.4, but by this morning it was classified as 5.1.

After last night's confusion followed by my incorrect conclusion, I decided it was time to get an earthquake detector at home. I've used them at work for years.

I don't go in for anything elaborate, though that's certainly an option. This lady developed an earthquake detector that uses actual electronics and complicated hardware that requires soldering and other things that seem to be beyond me, or at least beyond my desire to attempt it. And this store in Port Townsend, Washington, sells an earthquake detector that draws in sand. Here's what it looks like (the sand tracing is after an earthquake in Olympia, Washington in 2001):

The physics behind this type of detector is similar to a Foucault Pendulum, which is used to demonstrate the rotation of the earth. But while the Foucault Pendulum swings, an earthquake detector works by not swinging. If there's not an earthquake, the ground is still, and so is the pendulum. When an earthquake hits, the table that the pendulum holder is resting on moves with the earth, but the pendulum bob remains stationary in spatial terms. To our eyes, however, because we're also moving with the earth, the pendulum bob appears to sway.

Back in the late 1980's I worked in Irvine, close to Newport Beach. The building I worked in was huge, and my group's cubicles were out in the middle of the floor away from the stability of the walls. When heavy people walked by, or when people wheeled heavily laden carts down the nearby aisles, the floor would bounce and make us wonder if it was an earthquake. So I installed my first earthquake detector on my desk, looping the pocket clip of a hot pink highlighter over a rubber band and taping the top of the rubber band to the underside of my desk's overhead cabinet. Then, whenever we felt the floor moving, we'd check the detector. If it wasn't swaying, that told us the floor was moving up and down to somebody's footsteps or cart. But if it swayed, we were having an earthquake. This came in handy after the April 7, 1989, Newport Beach earthquake (we didn't need the detector for the actual quake, because pieces of the ceiling tiles were falling, and besides I was under the desk). The aftershocks were much smaller, and my detector was put to good use.

Well, now I'm ready for the next earthquake that happens while I'm at home. I've got my detector installed in a corner of my desk, and it's stopped swaying after the initial installation. Here is what will keep me from doubting my senses when an earthquake hits somewhere far enough away from here:

It's simple enough that anyone can make one.