Six-a-day: 2006.11.27

—investiture, vote of confidence
From's Palabra del Dia

Translated from BBCHindi

From punjabonline's Reading Words of Two Letters

—fairy-tale, fabulous (adj.)


—hello, welcome
From LexicOrient's Babel: Arabic

(This will also be a test to see if the characters for each of the different alphabets post properly.)

(And until I get my friends in here to help me, I will just pick words or phrases at random and give the citation for where I found them.)

(I recognize that my potential for error here this is huge, so any corrections would be appreciated 🙂 )

(No, I don't think that learning to write/read can actually substitute speaking the language with people.)


I've had this blog for quite a while—almost three years, I think—but I never had anything much to say on it, and I only gave it infrequent attention. So I archived everything and hid it from the front page. Now I've moved to Virginia, and this is the first time that I've really lived by myself. I've had residences that I lived in alone, but there was always a group of people that I knew nearby—in class, in sports, at ISU in France, while traveling. This time, out in Careerville, USA, it's different. I don't intend to complain about being lonely, but now that work is centered between 9am and 6pm with bookend time for commuting—different than the ol' 9am to 2am life of university engineering studies—I have an unfamiliar amount of free time, but no life to put into it.

I'll find a life, surely, I'm not worried about that, I suppose that it takes a little bit of time to get settled—planting my feet before moving forward. I'm not going to talk about that here. I intend to use this space for a pastime, one that I want to fulfill to a high degree of understanding: learning to speak languages other than English. I want to speak Spanish and Hindi fluently; I want to speak basic Punjabi; I want to have a moderate vocabulary in Farsi, Russian, and Arabic.

My motivation for doing this isn't interesting. I have some level of experience—in some cases, a very modest level—and friends that speak all of these languages. I have been studying some of them offline by myself. I am trying to keep it simple for now: one word a day in each language, six-a-day. I thought it would be an interesting idea to keep a counterpart journal online so that if anyone else could help me—hint, hint, the same friends I just mentioned—I could learn more and perhaps meet a few other people with a similar interest. I don't expect to be diligent enough to do six-a-day online everyday as well as on paper, but, hey, some is more than none.

Now the hard part, always the hard part: adding the first post...

Aviation biofuel and Brazil

Brazilian firm Tecbio, NASA, and Boeing have agreed to work together to produce biokerosene for aviation fuel. It's a short article, but I thought it was interesting because it touches two of my interests: aerospace and replacements for petroleum products. When I think of replacing our (i.e., US) dependence on petroleum, my mind always sticks on automobiles. I am entirely dependent on them (when I'm at home). But I also depend on aviation, else I wouldn't be here in France—I needed the plane to jump the ocean and much of the background I did to get accepted here was done by traveling.

Debunking a myth

The most common question I am asked when I travel is "how do you afford it?" And this is often asked, sardonically, "are you rich?" Simply: no. I don't have time to explain my whole "system" of getting around, but here is a quick look at a few principles.

  • I didn't spend much money during my last semester of grad school. The best way to describe this is to say that I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch everyday, though once a week I'd go out to eat. Part of this was choice, part was chance—my closest friends from school left a year before me, so I went out to Murphy's Pub fewer times that last semester.
  • I volunteer at conferences. This allowed me to get into events and reduced rates or free.
  • When possible, I find sponsorship from organizations to attend conferences or, currently, ISU.
  • When I travel, I usually stay with friends or family. This is the principle that is the most uncomfortable—I don't want to be a freeloader. Without this help I would have fewer stories to tell. What do I bring to my hosts? Very little, except another person to look after, and when you consider that I have done this in India, not just Toronto or Virginia, the task of taking care of me is a significant task. Granted, I am not just traveling to travel—I'm traveling to visit friends or for business. The only thing I can offer is that anyone is welcome in my house, which, in central Illinois, is off the beaten path, but I'll move on to a more central place soon. And you should visit.
  • I could use some new clothes, glasses, and contact lenses, but I've put that off until I get a career job (soon).

Of course, none of this is magic. It's quite mundane. There are a few tricks like how to eat on the road without going broke (19 days from Mojave to Illinois spending ~$40 on food, for example), but there is nothing complex. The underlying idea is that to get where I want to go, I accept that I must make some sacrifices where I am.

Ugh, don't bother me

I'm finishing up the editing of our team project report—32 people, 14 countries, one goal: finish a 150-page (max) report on a project to make earth observation system options more accessible to "decision makers," i.e., high-level public servants and business managers.

The sub-goal is perhaps to do it without developing a sincere disdain for each other.

Paris trip via Google Earth

[All of the links are Google Earth placemarks—that's what the .kmz file extensions are]

Starting at the Gare Centrale in Strasbourg at 12:19am, we arrived at the Gare de l'Est in Paris at roughly 7am. During the day, Dave and I traveled to:

[hopefully coming soon: a tour of the path we took around the city]

We only had ten hours in Paris, so we got around as much as we could. And no, it wasn't a romantic trip; Dave's fiancé might have something to say about that...

Preparing to roll on...

Wooo, update: I have a ride to Barcelona with three other guys from ISU on 2 September. And there is a small amount of funding available if I present our ISU team project paper at the International Astronautical Congress in Valencia. Getting to Spain was a huge hurdle, and staying in Spain—without running out of money—during September was a second hurdle that immediately followed that one. Other issues remain such as where I'm going to stay in Barcelona and Valencia, but hey—things tend to turn out well in the end if you put enough sensible effort into preparation.

That's funny—there were only nine planets when I woke up...

Now there are twelve planets, apparently, thanks to a draft resolution from the International Astronomical Union's General Assembly.

Really I don't care that much if Pluto is a planet or not. Astronomers, for all of their empirical, stiff exterior, however, have an emotional attachment to it—one way or the other, for or against. It's not about numbers, no matter what the verbiage in the draft resolution says—Pluto remains a planet because it has always been a planet.

And that's OK with me.

Pluto would always have nostalgia saving its status. Maybe not just nostalgia—inertia. Emotional inertia. Discovering another planet in the solar system is a big deal. For all of my cynicism, I recognize that. It's like discovering a new continent or island on Earth, or discovering a new element. To try to take away the prestige of a fundamental discovery would not even be seriously considered. The solar system is our neighborhood, and when new neighbors are discovered it makes the place that we live more interesting. As residents, we become accustomed to the neighborhood and we are comfortable that we know all of its other residents. Even though all of these objects have always existed in the solar system, they never had status, and now that there is the opportunity for status, there is the opportunity to identify more residents and to slightly change what we know about our identity.

It's funny what a title can do. Suddenly, Ceres has status. Now it is important. On 15 August, Ceres was an asteroid. On 16 August it is a planet. We learn about the asteroid belt as students, floating there uninterestingly between Mars and Jupiter, not taking on any life or importance of its own. A footnote—something that has to be covered after the rocky planets but before you get to the gas giants.

Now Ceres is a planet. And so is Pluto's moon Charon, and an object known as 2003 UB313 that is so far away that it takes approximately 560 years to make one revolution. What's more important is that there are likely more objects out there that will be known as planets. They just have to be found.

There are candidate planets...

Yeah, I certainly sound like a space cadet about all of this, but I don't mind. My cynicism has hardened me sufficiently to avoid getting too excited about personally exploring space, but the discovery of the strange things that are out in the solar system or universe—or any discovery on Earth—still excites me. It's the only part of my self that still connects to the six-year-old in me.