Friday, 30 January 2009

Winter Wonderland

We had an absolutely gorgeous morning today. Hardly a cloud in the sky and about -8C. The sun gave a golden light to everything.

Really the only point of this post is to show some of the beauty I saw today. So no more writing for a bit just lots of pictures.
The last two pictures were taken yesterday afternoon when the sunset turned the last cloud bank and the trees all bronzygold. Beautiful.

What was interesting was the correlation between the breaking up of the clouds and the drop in temperature. I was studying at the kitchen table right next to the thermometer. When I started around 10am the sky was a pearly grey and the temperature was 0C. By noon the cloud was breaking up and the temperature had dropped to -3C. At three when these pictures were taken it was -5C and by the time the sun had gone down it was -8C.

I have been tracking the temperature during the month of January so on Sunday or Monday I will be posting an entry on the different temperatures and what they have meant weatherwise.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Book Review: 1984

The first time I read Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell I was 17. I read it for my history class as an example of a totalitarian state. This time I am reading it for a Socio-Linguistics class.

The main character in the book is Winston Smith. A 39 year old resident of London, Airstrip One, Oceania. This was once Great Britain but is now a totalitarian state made up of, in large, the English speaking world. Winston is a Outer Party member who works in an office job in the Ministry of Truth where he 'corrects' wrongs in printed material in line with the Party slogan "Who controls the past (...) controls the future: Who controls the present controls the past" (p37). Winston has dangerous thoughts of rebellion against the Party and its front figure, the mysterious Big Brother.

The book is a frightening look at what could possibly happen in a world where everything is rigidly controlled by one entity, Big Brother. Big Brother plays the citizens off each other and themselves. Citizens are constantly watched through the ever present and turned on telescreen, through which the party can monitor the individuals and feed them propaganda. In addition to this the citizens are encouraged to inform on each other. Children are members of youth groups where they are taught to spy on their parents and each other and report any instances of unorthodoxy, so called thoughtcrime. Another facet of this dystopian society is the discouragement of sexual relations for other puposes than reproduction. The citizens live in constant fear of doing something that will get the reported to the Thought Police and taken away to the Ministry of Love (which really deals with torture).

Winston shows an intellectual resistance to the ideas of Big Brother. Through his job he is exposed to the reality of the falsifying of information. He also has a memory of seeing proof that former members of the party could not have committed the crimes of which they were accused off. The books other important character is Julia, a young woman, whos rebellion against Big Brother is more physical. She has the apperance of the perfect Party member, but as Winston discovers, rebels in her own personal way. The books shows Winstons decent into full rebellion and what happens next.

I found it really interesting to read paying special attention to a different aspect from the first time I read it. By paying attention to the language that Orwell used and to the ideas of 'Newspeak' that he puts forward I saw a whole new layer to the book. This layer made me appreciate the different nuainces of the English language. As an example I found the discussion on the precision of good vs. bad contra good vs. ungood very interesting. The book theorises that bad is technically not the oposite of good, it is in reality something completely different. Instead the more precise oposite of good is ungood. This is interesting to me as and ESL teacher because I often see the tendancy of students to use the prefix un- when they do not know the opposite of a word. To me, however, ungood, although technically the oposite of good, is not a good choice because something does not have to not good to be bad (not sure if this makes sense, it does in my brain but you never know...).

I might be overly optimistic but I do not believe that a society can be controlled by cutting down the amount of words in a language and defining them more precisely. I believe that human beings have an innate need to communicate and to create new words, especially to describe new phenomena or new uses for old things. Take the example of the word "to google". This verb did not exsist ten years ago but is now an excepted use. "To google" means to seach for something on the internet. One could argue that the phrase "to seach the internet" would suffice. However, I would argue that by using the verb "to google" we are actually describing what we are doing.

I would highly recommend that everyone reads this book at least once. I would actually say that everyone should read it every few years because there are so many layers to the book and as new things are learned and new events take place you see new things in the book.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Book Review: The Oxford Companion to English Literature

School has started back up and I am knee deep in the Renaissance. Since this is the first time I study lit history since high school I am having to sort through my brain and organise my previous knowledge about the time period and the figures in it. I don't want this to turn into a rant about my own schooling but let me just say that I can give you a clear idea about 20th century history but anything previous to that is sketchy at best. What I do know I have picked up in bits and pieces over the years from my own reading and from living in the UK and going to historical places there. So this said I need some pretty extensive hand holding when it comes to putting things into context. The school has provided us with some very good resources but perhaps the one I have found the most useful is a book we already had in the house:

The Oxford Companion to English Literature by Margaret Drabble

Yup a reference book is my lifesaver right now. It is providing me with short biographies of important people at the time. It is clearly laid out and very interesting. It is well written and gives pertinent information and the ability to continue to investigate the topic. I have to say that anyone who is a student of literature should have this book at hand. It is great. I am using an older version of the book but the newer version I have linked to also looks really good. Now what I really need is a good dictionary of history.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Martin Luther King Day 2009

It should be heard at least once in a lifetime. The first time I heard it as a teenager I was bowled over. It was one of those unforgettable moments in my awakening to the world.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Winter Wednesday: Colours of Winter

My contribution to Winter Wednesday:Colours of Winter over at Handbook for Nature Study.

At first I was a bit sceptical about seeing any colours other than brown, green and grey so I decided to look at the different shades of these colours that I could find. There were some really cool looking lichens on the old ruins in the woods across the pond. And I realised that there were some pretty different colours in them.

I really need to get a book on lichens to look these up because they were so cool. I love the star shapes on these ones. They look like little starfish.These little spikes were a redish colour so I guess they qualify for some winter colour.

Towards the end of my walk I did find some colour in different places. I have been trying to figure out what kind of bush this is:

The bush itself is about 2.5m high and the thicker branches are brown but the outer branches are red. I can't for the life of me remember what it looks like in the summer even though I go past it all the time.

I also found some lichens growing on our Elderflower bush in the back garden. That was a beautiful yellow colour.

And finally a beautiful sunset from a couple of days ago. It was taken out of my upstairs study window.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

The Moon

Pictures and Observations

I am very fortunate in that I live in the countryside where we have little or no light pollution. This means that when the moon is full (or nearly full) we get this amazing light and when the moon is new we see the stars and boy are there a lot of them. Yesterday was a beautiful day here and I managed to take pictures of the moon at several points during the day and night.

At sunset. 15:10. Moon 96% full.

As you can see the moon is very bright even at this time of day.
This picture was taken from our downstairs window. The moon is in the north east part of the sky.

This next picture is taken at the same time of day but from an upstairs window.

I couldn't believe how bright the moon was at this time of day. It was pretty amazing.

This picture was taken an hour later at 16:10. Moon is now at 97% full. As you can see it is very very bright. This picture is taken without the flash which is what is causing the double moon. So incredibly bright.

This final image is taken at 23:20 with the moon at 98% full. The moon is now pretty much dead on in the south and the picture is taken from a third floor window where I had to lean out and up. At this point it was so bright I could easily have gone for a walk in the woods and been able to see things. Absolutely amazing. I tried capturing it in a picture but there just wasn't enough light to be able to do that.

About the Luna Phases

The lunar phases are caused by the angle of the moon to the earth and the sun. Depending on where in the orbit these bodies are we seen different parts of the moon. The time between the different phases of the moon is on average 29 days 12 hours and 44 minutes. This does vary at times however due to the moons elliptical orbit.

Myths of the Moon

The lunar phases of the moon has been subject to many myths and superstitions over the centuries. For example it is said that when the moon is full the werewolfs come out. It was also thought that the moon and magical powers or that it was made of cheese. Today we know that the moon does affect for example the tide.

Moon at its Perigee

Today when the moon is full it will also be at its closest point to the earth in its orbit and therefore this is the biggest the moon will be this year. This is called the moon being at perigee. Two stories about this phenomena one from NASA and one from MSNBC. Both links provide more information about the moon and different space missions. So if it is clear where you are today go out and look at the moon.

Friday, 9 January 2009

12 Books in 12 Months

One of my New Years resolutions this year is to read one "good" book per month. Maybe I shouldn't call it a good book but rather an educational book. Yes lets go with educational. I have made a list of books I want to read so that I won't spend the first half of the month trying to decide which book to read and then get discouraged. Most of the books from the list are selected from The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. This book was recommended to me by a friend some time ago and I found it very very useful during my literature course at gradschool last semester. I will blog about the steps she recommends at a later date. Today it is about the list. So for without further ado the list:

January: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
The first book that Wise Bauer recommends in the novel section is Don Quixote. I've tried reading this book several times and I keep getting stuck. So since classes don't start until the end of the month I thought I would make a concerted effort this month to read it. I feel that this is most definitely the time to do it.

February: John Adams by David McCullough
This book is not recommended by Wise Bauer but I have never studied American history pre-civil war. I grew up in Sweden but spent one year in an American High School, we studied American history post civil war. So this year as part of my self-education I want to study some American history. I was recommended the books by David McCullough as being excellent. I am currently listening to 1776 and so I thought that John Adams would be a good next step.

March: Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.
This book isn't recommended in The Well-Educated Mind either but an online book club was going to read it for January and so I bought it. Unfortunately I got really busy in December and didn't get around to reading that book or much of anything really, so I have slated it for March.

April: The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
This book follows Don Quixote in the list of novels in The Well-Educated Mind. I have actually wanted to read this book since I was a teenager when I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott where the girls get the book for Christmas, so I am looking forward to this.

May: Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
This book is such a part of the fabric of our society that I am looking forward to reading it just to see the lilliputians for myself. I have heard of them growing up and now I want to see it for myself.

June: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
The Well-Educated Mind actually calls for Pride and Prejudice at this point but I have recently read that and so I thought I would read a different Austen.

July: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
I can't remember if I have or haven't read Oliver Twist. I know I have seen the movie but I just can't remember if I have read it. So I am definitely reading it now.

August: Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
The Well-Educated Mind actually calls for Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and then The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorn in between Oliver Twist and Moby-Dick but I am reading both those books for my History of British and American Literature and Ideas course so I will get them read outside of this list. I do feel a bit apprehensive about reading this book as I have heard that a lot of people find it difficult but I shall give it an ernest go.

September: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
This book goes well with my studies of American history so I figure I am hitting two birds with one stone. I have read it before but it has been quite some time so it is probably a good idea to re-read it.

October: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
I read this book for my World Literature class in High School but that was quite some years ago now so I am going to re-read it. I remember thinking Emma quite annoying. It will be interesting to see if I have a different opinion of her now that I am older.

November: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I bought a copy of this when I was studying a module of Russian history in High School but I never got around to reading it. I really enjoyed Russian history so I am hoping that this book will capture my interest.

December: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
A friend of my tells me that this book is very good so I am hoping that the year will end with a good one. Of course this is a book that one hears a great deal about so I am interested in seeing if it is as good as they say.

As you can see I often recommend the Penguin Classics. I really enjoy the formatting with these editions and I also like the introductions in them. I highly enjoyed the introduction in Don Quixote because it deals with the difficulties with translations and I studied translation this fall. The translator talks about the difficulties of translating accurately when there isn't a perfectly corresponding word or phrase something I deal with as an ESL teacher.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

Carrie at Reading to Know is hosting an L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge in January. Anne of Greengables was one of my childhood heroines and even as an adult not a year goes by without me reading one (if not all her books). In fact when I opened my Audible account the first book I downloaded was Anne of Greengables. I also read the Emily series as a child and loved them (but not as much as I loved Anne). As a child my favourite book was that first one, but as I became a teenager my favourites moved to Rilla of Ingleside and Anne of Avonlea. Both books have been read almost to pieces. I do love them so!

This challenge also comes at a very good time since one of the Swedish tv channels are currently showing the tv series (nowhere near as good as the books of course but...) So I shall be enjoying my Anne and Rilla as an antidote to Don Quixote this month.

Nature Journal: Roe Deer

I live in the countryside in Sweden and we often have deer tracks in our garden in the winter but it isn't every day we see a whole family of deer stop for their breakfast outside our kitchen window which happened on December 8th, 2008.

This is the European Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus). It is a mammal that is found in most parts of Europe south west of the Caucasus Mountains. They are most commonly seen during the dawn and twilight hours. The Roe Deer is easy to recognize based on their distinctive white tales. The colour of the rest of the animal depends on the season. They are generally a light brown trecal colour in the summer with their coat going darker in the winter. As you can see from the picture above these animals definitely have a darker colour. The coat on top of the back is almost black. This causes them to blend very well with the pine trees that cover large portions of Sweden.

According to wikipedia (yes I know not the most reliable resource but bear with me for a sec) they prefer to live alone. I find this a very confusing statement because in Sweden it is the general rule of thumb when driving that if you see one deer there will be more. And as you can see from my pictures these deer were definitely travelling in a pack.

As you can see from this picture the deer are searching for food in our "medow". We leave this part of the garden to wild flowers in the summer. Roe Deer are herbivores prefering grasses and other types of ground veggitation. They also like shoots of holly and birch trees. And from personal experience I can say that they have a disturbing fondness for strawberry plants.

Based on the size of the animals in this grouping I wo
uld guess that it consisted of three femals and one male. It is also distincly possible that it was a family grouping with a male and female and their calves from this year. One of the animals was larger than the other three and it appeared that he still had his horns. Only the male Roe Deer grows horns and these fall off in the winter. This picture is rather blurry (I was trying to take pictures through the window without alerting them to my presence) but this is the larger of the deer. This was really noticable when one of the other deer came up close to this one. The reason I think this might be a family grouping was the differences in size between the animals when they were all walking on a line. I could see the difference in size between them and two were roughly the same size with the the other two being bigger, with one larger than the other. The Roe Deer are generally 95-135cm long, 63-74cm high at the shoulder and weigh between 18-29kg. They tend to be very skittish. I was surprised that they did not bolt when they heard me open the window to take pictures. They did leave when they heard me but first they collected themselves and they walked off in an orderly fashion. I thought it was quite interesting that they clearly walked on the road. It made a lot of sense to me since the snow was quite thick on the ground and it must have been much easier to walk on the road.

As previously stated the most common trace of the Roe Deer in our garden is their tracks. The Roe Deer have very small hoofs that make a distinctive print with two pads with a bridge inbetween. Right now the snow is to deep for me to be able to take a good picture of this but here is one that shows how they criss cross our garden. There are other tracks in this picture mainly the neighbours cat :D.

BBC Science & Nature
Forestry Commission

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Wordless Wednesday

I took this picture a few weeks ago through our kitchen window. I thought I would post it today and blog some about it tomorrow for some nature blogging.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Starting out

LJ is in trouble so I am going to start a blog here just so I have some place for all my random stuff in case it goes belly-up fast. I have been thinking about moving over here anyway because I think the formats of the blogs I have seen here are nicer. We shall see what happens.