Lesson #94 Redux: Being Linked

This blog has never been anything more than a way for me to just vomit random information for about a dozen people who know and love me to read if they’re interested. I teach you things because I like to know things. Because my parents like to know things.

Apparently, though, I’m only mostly just a tiny little internet blip vomiting knowledge and good research. I’m super late to the game on this — mostly because this little endeavour lay dormant for three years while I did my second master’s and then didn’t have a need for this sort of intellectual stimulation in the following year and a half. But here we are just into 2018, and I’m looking at the stats page and notice a weird referral.

Most people who wind up here came either because they’re subscribed to it (Hey, guys! Thanks for still being here!) or because they’re googling whether a. they can legally go to Paraguay for that dual they’re itching for (Put the gun down!) or b. their untreated syphilis will make their nose fall off (There are drugs for this! Go see your doctor! And wear a condom next time!) However, since 2015, a perplexing number of people have ended up here thanks to…The Guardian?

Like…the reputable British news site, The Guardian. As you can imagine, this was confusing. How on earth did so many people end up here because of a British newspaper to which I have zero affiliation? It turns out that in 2015, someone writing over there went to the Google machine whilst writing an article on the revival of Manx Gaelic and found my post on the same. What I find hilarious is that the statistic to which I’m linked is pulled from the fifth chapter of a book from a 1990 conference on Minority Languages that literally took me all of about 90 seconds to find, in full, from the moment I clicked off my blog to the citation.*

But…I rather suspect I was linked because I’m much more concise and easier to read than the author of the original paper (one Dr. Wilf Gunther of Lancashire Polytechnic in Preston, about whom a cursory search reveals surprisingly little outside of acknowledgements by other authors, which makes me think he may not still be alive), which is heartening. The original article is interesting, but dense. I’ve broken the information down into just a few paragraphs, and being linked by a source like The Guardian means the work I’m putting into learning about these things and making them digestible pieces of knowledge for non-academics is effective and useful.**


*It would have been faster if the initial citation to which I linked had been more complete. What should have been a two-step process turned into a five-step process. So it took a minute and a half instead of 15 seconds.

**I’m sure there’s a discussion to be had on the decline of our attention spans to the point where valuable academic information needs to be broken down into a few easily digestible paragraphs, but I’m not here for that right now. Or ever, really, I guess, given that this entire blog is easily digestible knowledge designed for people who aren’t inclined to spend an hour or two or three (depending on the lesson) reading up on a subject for no reason other than “I was curious”.


Lesson #404: Order of Definitions

Happy 2018, everyone! I’m a bit late to the game, in part because I’ve been a bit all over the place with other things going on last week. Monday was a holiday. Everyone I know had a birthday (not literally speaking, but there was much birthdaying to be done). The World Juniors hockey tournament was happening. The Swede had a baby — well, his wife actually *had* the baby. The swim team I help with were back from break. I was busy just trying to keep up with life, you guys! But my goal for the year is to make weekly posts. I’ve got a post backdated for last week that’s still kind of spastic, so I may or may not post it…we’ll see. Moving on to week #2…

A friend in a major city in the Northeast sent me a message today asking if I knew the order for dictionary definitions. I thought she was going to enlighten me. She did not. She was asking because she didn’t know.

So, naturally, I went looking.

My initial guess was chronological, but that seemed not-quite-right, given the ever-changing nature of language.

It turns out that most major dictionaries, such as the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster do, in fact, list definitions in chronological order. Which is apparently done for exactly the reason I expected it wouldn’t — to maintain a timeline for the way we use language. Others, like the American Heritage Dictionary use a commonality order, which lists definitions based on usage in language.

For the OED, see here, under Chronology and the Historical Method

For the M-W dictionary, see here, under Order of Senses

For the American Heritage dictionary, see here, under Order of Sense

Lesson #403: Shepard Tones

I finally got around to watching Dunkirk today. It’s stressful. But it’s beautifully made, and there was a variation on Elgar’s ‘Nimrod‘.* Which mostly drove me crazy by pretending to be Nimrod, very slowly, for a bar or two, without ever becoming Nimrod. In looking it up later, I learned that it wasn’t actually Nimrod, which mostly exonerated it.**

Anyway, one of the way that your blood pressure gets ratcheted up in this film is the Shepard tone. Identified by cognitive scientist Roger Shepard, the Shepard tone is an auditory illusion that gives the listener the sense of a perpetually rising tone without ever actually rising. Using overlapping tones, as the scale rises the top end fades out and allows the bottom tone to pick back up very quietly as the other pitches continue to rise. It’s sort of like a round of, say, Frere Jacques, where after you’ve finished the line “ding dang dong”, you pick back up at the top of the round with “Frere Jacques” while your friend moves into the “ding dang dong” line. While this is happening, you’re quieter in the initial “Frere Jacques” and the ultimate “ding dang dong” lines, and louder in the middle “dormez-vous” and “sonnez les matines” lines. The Shepard tone is a more uniform and linear version of this idea that tricks your brain into thinking it’s continually climbing. The effect of that is a sense of mounting tension, and Dunkirk‘s composer, Hans Zimmer, uses this masterfully. You can hear it (and the snippets of Elgar) in this piece.

To hear what a Shepard tone sounds like in isolation, listen here.

For more on the theory of the Shepard tone from some BBC scientist types, see here.


*We’ve previously discussed this very piece of music.

**It is, however, a brilliant choice of music for people familiar with the wave of Elgar’s (posthumous — he died in 1934) popularity in England at the time.

Lesson #402: Combinations Locks in the Arab World

Hello, all five of you who are still subscribed to this blog! Glad you’re still here.

I’m at a bit of an intellectual standstill, so I’ve decided to return to this endeavour for 2018. Here’s a quick bite to tide you over until the new year — unless I decide to post again between now and then, in which case, you know, lucky you!

Every now and again, something will pop into my head for absolutely no reason, and it’ll be completely absurd and serve very little intellectual purpose. Not even as a question on Jeopardy!. This is one of those times.

Imagine this: it’s 11:30 pm on a weeknight. I’m getting ready to head in the direction of bed. And then this pops into my head: do combination locks in the Arab world use dial faces with the Hindi numerals on them? Do not ask me why I suddenly needed to know this at 11:30 on a weeknight. I’m as baffled by it as you are.

Now, to understand this question, it’s first important to clarify something you may not know. The numbers we use in Indo-European language (0, 1, 2, etc.) are Arabic numerals. The numbers used in Arabic are Hindi numerals. Answering this question should have been easy, but because of the subtleties of language, it was not. The internet was exactly zero help.

So I did the obvious thing and, at midnight, turned to a friend who spent years living in Jordan. We went back and forth about this for a little while. She wasn’t sure she’d ever seen a combination lock while in country. But in Jordan, they mostly use Arabic numerals in writing and signage, so she suggested it was likely that even if Master and similar companies do make locks with different dials, they wouldn’t be available in Jordan. But, she continued, Saudi Arabia is very strict in its usage of Hindi numerals. Obviously, the next person to ask was my Saudi friend. His response didn’t come in until the next morning because, seriously, who sends texts about lock dials at 12:30 in the morning?

In Arabic countries (and, by logical extension probably all other countries that do not use Arabic numerals), combination locks use the standard dial with Arabic numerals. Though this is as academically unreliable an answer as I’ve ever posted, it’s the best I can do with the failure of the internet to help in literally any way.

But now you know. For the zero times it will ever come up again.

A quick update

I’m crazy busy this semester. I’ve accidentally overextended myself and there’s no way to pull it back. So there won’t likely be much here until the end of April.

But here’s a quick update of what’s going on in my learning world:

1. I’m in the process of researching a paper on whether FIFA, as an international organization, are doing enough, under the UN’s “responsibility to protect” (R2P) mandate, to protect football fans in conflict zones.

2. There’s a very good chance I’ll be in Sarajevo for the summer.

3. There are not enough hours in my day. This weekend I’m turning off my phone, avoiding my friends, and trying to get 75 hours worth of work done in 55.

Lesson #401 (sort of): Serbia’s Ultras Problem

I turned in my term paper for my Ethnic and Cultural Conflict class today (three days early!). I’m really pleased with how it turned out on its fourth iteration. It began as an examination of football clubs’ interactions as reflections of Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian relations with one another. Then it was how Croatian and Serbian football clubs’ interactions with each other and with European fans is reflective of the overall regional politics. Then it was how football violence in Croatia and Serbia is reflective of each country’s position in Europe. And finally it was what it is…

an explanation of contemporary Serbian politics using four football matches: Croatia/Serbia in March of last year (how Serbia is coping with its lingering resentments and learning to work with its traditional rival); Partizan/Tottenham in September (how the rise of the right is spurring anti-Semitism and homophobia in Serbia); Serbia/Albania in mid-October (how the Kosovo question is affecting Serbia’s relationship with the EU and why its transition has been so slow); and Partizan/Red Star at Halloween (how Serbia is allowing its ultras to destroy it from within).

Short version: all of Serbia’s current political troubles stem from using football ultras groups as paramilitary units during the Homeland and Bosnian Wars.*

It’s 15 pages of awesome. That I had to work for.


…good research will get you everywhere. If I hadn’t done the leg work, paring down enough to get a *good* paper into 15 pages would have been impossible.

*You’re either going to have to trust me on that or do the research yourself. I’ve done the work.

Lesson #400: Yugoslavia’s Dwindling Football League

I’m  writing a paper on how, as Serbia is Europeanized as it moves towards EU membership, football hooliganism is the last outlet for expressing lingering ethno-cultural anger. And I am learning all sorts of interesting stuff about the way football operated in the former Yugoslavia. For example:

Eager to maintain some sense of “normalcy”, and despite the fact that six teams from Croatia (5) and Slovenia (1) had already withdrawn from the league, the Yugoslav League continued the business of football through the first two seasons of the war in Croatia (and the first season of the war in Bosnia) with an ever-dwindling number of teams in its league as teams withdrew — or, in the case of Željezničar Sarajevo, abandoned the league when their stadium was destroyed. The Yugoslav League collapsed after the 1992-93 season.*

I find that fascinating. The article that information comes from also talks about how for the big teams in the top flight, getting to and from matches in the months leading up to the war wasn’t particularly difficult since they could fly from Belgrade to Zagreb, but for second division teams and smaller first tier teams that traveled by bus, getting to away matches in Croatia was a lot of crossing your fingers and hoping no one killed you on the way. Which is mad.

*This comes from Richard Mills’ article, ‘It All Ended in an Unsporting Way’: Serbian Football and the Disintegration of Yugoslavia, 1989-2006.