Farmer as Creative

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It’s easy to think that science and engineering are devoid of an appreciation for aesthetics. We seem overly focused on results, with little interest in the human dimension of our creations. Indeed, that’s the stereotype; but like all stereotypes, it has very little basis in reality. People in technical fields are still people, and they can still appreciate beauty. Often, however, that beauty is found in different places, such as: in effective, efficient design; in elegant, simple solutions; and in clever and innovative responses (the sort that make you go “oh, that’s neat!”). In science and engineering, beauty is found in function first, then in form. It’s no use having something pretty if it doesn’t accomplish the goal…

This philosophy applies to farming, too. Having a pretty tool that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do isn’t much help. Joe Trumpey explored this idea, in an exhibition titled “Farmer as Creative,” which opened on October 21, hosted at the Work Gallery in Ann Arbor. He explored the many ways farmers design new tools and processes to accomplish tasks and achieve their broader goals, combining function and ethics to improve soil health or water quality, or breed sounder livestock lines.

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Accompanied by live music and delicious food, visitors wandered through the exhibit, exploring the many innovative ways farmers apply creativity to their craft. Dried plants and articles about farmers and their tools decorated the walls, and several tools had been set up for people to try. Tillers International, a nonprofit organization based in Scotts, MI, had a manual hay baler with plenty of hay (clever, farming out work to volunteers!). There was a rope making machine made from a hay rake and water pump parts, and people were encouraged to make their own jump ropes. Friends of mine have made rope by hand before and can attest just how frustrating and mind-numbing it is – this looked like a much easier method. There was also a corn sheller, which was very popular: there was plenty of dried corn to test it on, and the machine stripped the kernels off within seconds.

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Local fermented foods company The Brinery (“Stimulate Your Inner Economy!”) had a fermentation petting zoo, allowing people to see, touch, and smell their products at various stages. With food available in packages at the grocery store, it’s easy to forget where it comes from – and to miss out on fun new foods like sauerkraut and kimchi! There was a new design for a beehive, next to a traditional terracotta beehive. One display involved Native American farm implements, showing that this is a process that has gone on since farming itself was first invented.

The attendees were a diverse bunch: college students, farmers, wandering Ann Arbor residents drawn in by the music, and families with children. The tool demonstrations were a big hit with kids, who were more than happy to lend a hand on the enormous piles of corn and hay. Several farmers were on hand to talk about what they do and to explain the exhibits, and there were way more possibilities for exhibits than there was room available in the building. Articles on the walls described old tools being repurposed (an old plow being used as a berry planter), a portable “sugar shack” for making maple syrup, a calf being fitted with artificial legs, and farmers using oxen to plow fields.

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Farmers’ creativity spans more than new tools: it also includes development of new processes. From preservation methods like canning and fermentation, to a u-pick garden that prices vegetables by the peck, to community gardens sprouting up across the country, farmers are finding new business models and ways to reach their customers.

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There were many more innovative ideas than could be covered in this exhibit. Websites like Farm Show magazine and Farmhack.net (an open source community for resilient agriculture) collect new tools and processes so others can see and use them too. The displays of creativity shown here were truly impressive – definitely enough to make this engineer go “oh, that’s neat!” repeatedly! It’s easy to think that farming just involves putting seeds in the ground, watering occasionally, and then harvesting, but obviously it’s much more complicated than that. As Trumpey explains, “farmers are a tool savvy, process oriented, iteration aware, focused group of problem solvers.” Seeing this exhibit proved once again that efficient, effective design has its own beauty, and that you don’t have to be an artist to appreciate art in its myriad forms.

 

Cheers!

-H

New Word Wednesday: dreich

 

Happy Wednesday! Here’s your new word for the week, courtesy of the oncoming fall weather:

 

dreich adjective

  • (especially of weather) dreary, bleak

“a cold, dreich November”

Origin: Middle English (in the sense “patient, long-suffering”); of Germanic origin, corresponding to Old Norse drjúgr “enduring, lasting”

 

The origin of the word makes it much more interesting than the definition, I think! It really evokes the nature of this sort of weather, especially in the Midwest (or Germany, from the sound of it), and the stubbornness and patience involved in surviving it. Something to keep in mind as winter approaches!

 

Cheers,

-H

 

Source:
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/dreich

The Greek Alphabet

One of my favorite books is called The Last Samurai (nothing to do with the Tom Cruise movie!), about a child prodigy who goes on a quest to find his father. His mother has some unconventional approaches to education, and the boy learns Latin, Arabic, Greek, Japanese, and a handful of other languages, along with astronomy, calculus, aerodynamics…all before the age of 10. This book was the source of a lot of motivation for me, and through it I learned how to read Greek. I even made a little song…

The method she used in the book worked really well for me, so here it is (because I know you’ve always wanted to be able to read Greek!).

In the book, the boy’s mother started out by writing out the alphabet, like above. Oddly enough, this didn’t result in education! So, she next showed him all the letters that looked like English letters:

βατ = bat
εατ = eat
αβουτ = about

Then, she introduced some letters which looked a little different: γ = g, δ = d, λ = l, μ = m, ν = n, π = p, ρ = r, σ = s.

γρατε = grate
δατε = date
σπελλ = spell
μεν = men

After that, some more complicated letters: ξ = x and ζ = z. Also, h, which works differently in Greek. It doesn’t have a letter, but instead a ‘ symbol gets placed over the letter. If the h is silent, a ’ gets used. So you get:

μιξ = mix
ζιπ = zip
ìτ = hit
íτ = it

Then there are letters that stand for sounds that, in English, are written with two letters. θ is th, but separated, like when you say “spit hard”. φ sounds like the ph in “slap hard”. χ sounds like kh as in “walk home”. And, ψ sounds like ps in “naps”.

παθιμ = pat him
βλαΧεαρτεδ = blackhearted
ὲλφερ = help her
ριψ = rips

Finally, there are the long vowels and diphthongs. Long e has the letter η, like the e of bed stretched out. Long o has the letter ω, like the o of hot stretched out. And the diphthongs:

παι = pie
παυ = pow
δει = day
βοι = boy
μου = moo

As it turns out, because of this and growing up Jewish (reading Hebrew from prayer books), I can read more languages than I can actually understand. It’s not as much fun as being able to actually understand the language, but I really like learning new alphabets. This is probably why I liked the Artemis Fowl series so much: the fairies in that book had their own alphabet, and there were secret messages along the bottom of the pages for me to decode! By the end of the book I could read that script fluently too…

Cheers,

-H

Cooking Adventures: Roast Chicken

The hopelessly Instagrammed version...

The hopelessly Instagrammed version…

Happy Friday! As the weather gets colder, I start wanting all my food to be warm and comforting. I have enough trouble staying warm without my food working against me…which is why today’s recipe is one of my favorite comfort foods: roast chicken.

Keep in mind, this is the way I usually do it! There are tons of variations available: using different spices, adding marinade, stuffing the bird, having different sides…this isn’t quite as flexible as “what’s in my kitchen?” soup, but seeing as I’ve never made it the same way twice, I see no reason why you should!

Roast Chicken (adapted from “Nourishing Traditions”, by Sally Fallon)

1 roasting chicken, about 4 pounds
Root vegetables, diced:
 – carrots
– parsnips
– potatoes
– onions
– garlic (and seriously. If you’ve never had roasted garlic cloves, do this. Throw a whole head of garlic in. Separate the cloves, but don’t chop them. They taste simply incredible.)
Herbs, like thyme, oregano, or terragon – preferably fresh
4 tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the vegetables in the bottom of a roasting pan, making sure you leave enough room for the chicken. Stuff the herbs in the cavity of the chicken, and place in the roasting pan, underside up. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake for 1 hour. Turn chicken by inserting a wooden spoon into the cavity, lifting it up and rotating it around. Brush with more butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake for 1 more hour. Eat!

Finally: when you’ve picked the chicken clean, don’t throw out the carcass*! It – and any leftover vegetable scraps or other meat bones – will make a great chicken broth, so you can have soup in the winter too. Add all the bits to a stock pot, add water to cover everything, and add a bit of vinegar (to draw out the minerals from the bones). Let it simmer for 12-24 hours or so, adding more water if the level gets too low. If you don’t want to make soup immediately, broth will keep well frozen: I just thaw as many jars as I need. Enjoy!

New Word Wednesday: German “Zeug” Words

This should probably just be my motto for Wednesday’s post… Source: http://honestyexperiment.com/2013/04/09/honesty-tip-if-someone-uses-a-word-you-dont-know/

One really fun thing about German is the way new words can be created by compounding them with other words. So for this lovely Wednesday, you get three new words, all with the same root!

 

Werkzeug noun, German

  • tool

Literally, “Werk” (work) + “Zeug” (stuff) = work-stuff

 

Spielzeug noun, German

  • toy

Literally, “Spiel” (play) + “Zeug” (stuff) = play-stuff

 

Fahrzeug noun, German

  • vehicle

Literally, “Fahr” (travel) + “Zeug” (stuff) = travel-stuff

 

Zeug is an amazingly useful word: it can be used to make words like “Rasierzeug” (shaving kit), “Schreibzeug” (writing materials), “Schulzeug” (school stuff)…it’s one of those patterns that is easy to remember after the fact, though it may not be intuitive beforehand. German is full of these, and it’s an endless source of amusement.

 

Enjoy your new words!

Cheers,

-H

Thinking in a New Language

The mighty thesaurus! Not actually relevant, but too cute to pass up.

The mighty thesaurus! Not actually relevant, but too cute to pass up.

 

One especially hard part of learning a new language is thinking in that language: that is, if I need to say say the word for the piece of furniture I put my plate on, I think “der Tisch” and I don’t first think “the table” and then translate it. Thinking in your target language (TL) can dramatically improve your skills, because you can understand what you hear or read more quickly, without having to translate to your primary language to reach understanding. The key moment for me with Spanish was when I had a conversation on the phone with someone and we talked at a normal pace, exchanged all the information we needed, and agreed on a time to meet – all in Spanish! I was a bit giddy afterward. It was such a fantastic feeling, having worked so hard to get to this point and realizing I’d actually made it.

 

Thinking in your TL has a lot of benefits, but the biggest one to me is the conversion of passive vocabulary to active. Passive vocabulary is the words you understand when you’re listening or reading, but you don’t actively use them in speaking and writing. For me, the word for “farmer” in German is passive vocabulary: when I see or hear it, I know what it means, but I don’t have it available when I’m speaking or writing. By thinking in your TL, you force those passive words to become active, so that your inner monologue doesn’t run out of words.

One key point to make: thinking in your TL is not the same as being fluent! Fluency involves grammatical correctness, or native speech. In this case, we are talking about being able to produce something that makes sense and allows you to communicate (to yourself and others), automatically and without translation. Think of how children can communicate before they are fluent: what they say isn’t grammatically correct, but it is still communication.

 

So, how do you actually go about thinking in a new language? As always, repetition is key, as well as immersion. Practice a lot in your TL, and surround yourself with the language. Switch the language in your your browser and phone (you may have to keep Google Translate handy for a while, until you learn the new vocabulary!). Browser extensions like Mind the Word! for Chrome can switch a percentage of words on a web page to your TL.

Set aside time (short sessions at first) each day to practice thinking only in your TL. Tell a story, or describe how you are feeling, what you’re doing, what’s around you, or what you did today. Daily practice is important: this way, you make a habit of it and make it normal. Try having a free writing session: get a notebook and set a timer. Until the timer runs out, keep writing, as quickly as you can think. Don’t fix mistakes, and don’t go back, just as if you were doing this exercise in English! The goal here isn’t to write or talk fluently, but to get practice in increasing the pace of your words and to make it more natural to use the language regularly.

With any of these exercises, make a list each day of words that are missing from your vocabulary. Then, learn those words! This way you focus on the words you’ll actually use (unlike, say, some of the helpful words that come up in courses designed by other people – I knew the words for king/queen/prince/princess in Spanish before I knew “pencil”). Over time, you’ll notice your list getting shorter, as you learn more and more of the words you use every day. Focus on the words that are most relevant to you, and you’ll be able to communicate smoothly much sooner.

 

For multilingual learners, try switching from one language to another without stopping in your primary language! I’m working on translating between Spanish and German (“mesa” gets translated directly to “Tisch” without my having to think through “table”), to encourage flexibility in all directions.

 

A warning: you may confuse people around you if they talk to you when you’re practicing in your TL, and you answer them in the wrong language. That’s a good sign! Embrace the confusion, and laugh at it! Your transitions will get smoother, in time, and you’ll be able to switch languages as needed.

So, what techniques do you use for thinking in your target language?

¡Hasta pronto!

-H

 

Sources:
http://www.howtolanguages.com/uncategorized/how-to-think-in-your-target-language-part-1/
http://www.howtolanguages.com/uncategorized/how-to-think-in-your-target-language-part-2/
http://www.fluentin3months.com/thinking/

Reading: Tor and Shelfari

Not actually what my bookshelf looks like Source: http://laurenreadsya.tumblr.com/post/34905023288/bookshelf-porn-5

Not actually what my bookshelf looks like
Source: http://laurenreadsya.tumblr.com/post/34905023288/bookshelf-porn-5

Despite the fact that my bookshelf is overflowing and my collection of ebooks is threatening to take over my phone, I’m constantly keeping an eye on new sources for reading material. Usually I can keep from buying all the books I find interesting by just adding them to my Amazon wishlist (which is up over 200 items now…), which means that anyone looking for gifts has a huge list to pick from!

Two of my favorite ways of finding out about new books (other than wandering through a used bookstore for hours) are publisher Tor Book’s online magazine, and an email digest called Shelf Awareness.

 

Tor.com is the online sci-fi / fantasy magazine published by Tor Books. They publish articles on sci-fi and fantasy books, movies, and TV shows, convention news, rereads of well-known series and books (such as Harry Potter or the Wheel of Time), interviews with authors and other people in the industry, thoughts on fandom events, compilations of art…there’s tons of stuff. Their email list gets sent out every Thursday, and the articles are fun, but my favorite part is the “New Original Fiction” section. There are a couple new pieces each week, from Tor authors: either short stories or excerpts from new books. There are some really great stories, and it provides access to short fiction that I don’t often get in my regular diet of novels!

 

Shelf Awareness is the main contributor to my Amazon wish list right now. It’s a twice weekly e-newsletter about books and the book industry. Lists come out of a selection of new books being published that week, selected by industry members. The newsletter also includes some quizzes and articles for book lovers, interviews with authors, and a neat section at the end called Author Buzz. In it, authors write about their books and offer readers a chance to win a copy.

Shelf Awareness doesn’t focus on a particular genre – it has a bit of everything. I find an interesting title in just about every issue, which has been hard on my self-control! Maybe one day I’ll work through my backlog of paper and digital books (not likely)…if that ever happens, I certainly won’t be short on reading material even then!

 

What are your favorite sources for new books and things to read?

Cheers!

-H

New Word Wednesday: Zymurgy

Happy Wednesday! Here’s your word of the day:

zymurgy noun

  • the study or practice of fermentation in brewing, winemaking, or distilling

Origin: mid 19th century, from Greek zumē “leaven,” on the pattern of metallurgy

While beer isn’t my choice for alcohol, I’ll happily partake of the other results of zymurgy. My family has a history of practicing this art: as kids, my brother and I were paid $0.01 per dandelion head to pick dandelions for my mom to make wine. One summer we each earned around $15! It takes a lot of dandelions to make wine…luckily they were readily available on our property.

Enjoy your new word!

Cheers,

-H

 

Source:
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/english/zymurgy

Skills for Language Learning

We take for granted that public speaking is its own skill, separate from reading, debating, writing, or listening. We understand that these skills need to be practiced separately: being a good writer is no guarantee that you’ll be a good speaker. The same philosophy applies to learning a new language. To be fluent in the language, you need to practice your skills in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Looking at your skill level in these separate areas can give you areas to focus on: for example, I’m fluent in Spanish. However, my skill in speaking it is not as great as my skill in listening, writing, or reading. It’s something I have to practice more, so I can speak smoothly and confidently, without tripping over my tongue.

 

There are lots of ways to practice the various skills. The language app Duolingo makes sure to test these skills separately: translating from written phrases, transcribing spoken phrases, and speaking into the microphone. For practicing listening, try finding podcasts, tv shows, or news broadcasts in your target language. This can also help with gaining familiarity in different accents. Most of my experience with Spanish came from Latin American accents, and it took a while to get used to the accents in Spain (with their odd habit of dropping consonants all over the place!). Taking the time before the trip to find some examples of Spaniards speaking would have smoothed my transition.

Some resources for practicing the listening skill, here: SBS On Demand offers free movies in lots of languages; Librivox has audiobooks; here’s a list of Latin American movies to watch; and this is a tool to control playback speed in files, to catch parts you missed the first time through.

 

Practicing speaking could involve: finding someone on Skype or Italki to chat with (this also improves your listening skill!); reading aloud from a book or article in your target language; or narrating your activities and life (describe the people and things you see around you: what they’re doing, what they look like, etc.). Make it a habit: the more time you spend in your target language, the more confident you’ll be speaking it. Don’t wait until you know “enough” of the language to start doing this! You will never know enough; there will always be more words to learn. Instead, slip in whatever words you do know. If you come across a word that’s missing from your vocabulary, go look it up.

 

To practice reading: switch your phone/browser/computer to your target language; go to a used book store and pick up books to read (to start, try ones that you already know, comic books, or kids’ books. Don’t expect that you’ll be able to read at the same level as in your first language!); try any of these sources for reading material; try a bilingual puzzle; read comic books; or play 20 questions.

 

Don’t waste time trying to find the best or the perfect resource for language learning. It’s much better to find a decent source, and then just start using it. There will always be something better! If you find it, then switch, but don’t stop learning.

What are your favorite resources for learning the different language skills? For me, the real test for Spanish was when I went to Spain and discovered that I can indeed hold a phone conversation without stumbling! That was a great accomplishment. Even after that, though, I was still looking out for ways to improve my skills. This is an ongoing journey!

 

Cheers,

-H

Productivity Tools

Productivity and time management are essential skills to learn, but everyone finds their own best practice for managing their time. The method that works for one person most likely won’t work for someone else. Here are some tools that have worked for me lately:

 

I’m not overly fond of keeping a time sheet, but I have found that tracking the time I spend on projects helps me stay focused and not waste the day browsing the internet. I use Toggl to track my time: I can split it up by client and project, and all I have to do is mark when I start and stop working on a task. At the end of the week if I want to look at how I did, the site has reports available to show how much time was spent on each project/client, and how much time was logged overall.

The reports have a twofold benefit for me. First, they provide me with data: am I spending enough time doing actual client work, as opposed to internal projects? Am I getting a reasonable amount of work done each day? I can compare the time spent on a project to the time I estimated it would take, and see how accurate my predictions are. This helps make me better at scheduling my week without being under- or over-busy. Second, it (oddly enough) helps with my perfectionism. It’s easy for me to get into the mindset of thinking that I should get 8 hours of productive work out of an 8 hour day, but that’s just not reasonable. Distractions come up, there are bathroom and lunch breaks, switching tasks takes time, sometimes you just need to take a minute and not do anything…all these little breaks add up and getting 6-7 hours of work done is much more reasonable. Seeing the numbers reflect that has helped break me of the feeling of never working hard enough.

 

The second tool I use is Asana, for task management. I’ve tried various to-do lists, and so far this one’s sticking much better than the others. What works really well for me is that it’s browser (or app!) based, so I can access my list anywhere. Also, I can split tasks up by project, task, and sub-task, set due dates and priorities, add comments, and add followers (if someone else is involved with the task too). The task list is split into Today, Upcoming, and Later: by default, Today is ranked highest in the list, followed by Upcoming, and then Later is on the bottom, and usually hidden. When I set up a new task, it goes into Upcoming. The Later category is for tasks that are low priority that I can work on when I have free time. They’re things that it would be nice to get done, but they’re not needed.

At the beginning of the week, I set a few weekly goals: larger projects that will take several days to complete. I also go through my projects and list the smaller daily tasks that are due to be completed this week. Then at the beginning of each day, I review my list and see what needs to be done today, and move it up on my list. Then I get to work!

Having the tool open every day and taking a few minutes each morning to set my priorities and goals for the day has really helped my productivity. I get to see each day that I set goals, and then I accomplish them, which is a great feeling. In addition, having a Today section gets rid of the urge to keep pushing tasks off if I don’t feel like doing them. I want to check them off, not just move them down the list.

 

I keep this matrix up next to my desk to remind myself of what actually needs to be done. Source: http://examinedexistence.com/three-popular-ways-to-prioritize-a-hectic-schedule/

 

Finally, I keep in mind the Important/Urgent matrix (shown above). It’s fairly self-explanatory: important tasks are the big things, the ones that will have major impact and really need to be completed. Urgent tasks are like a phone ringing: they create the impression that they must be taken care of now, whether or not that’s actually true. Sometimes, it is true, as with an emergency or a project on a deadline. Often, though, it’s just a phone ringing, or an email popping up: it feels important because it’s at the top of your mind, but there are little to no consequences for not taking care of it immediately. It’s easy to get caught taking care of the Urgent-Not Important tasks, and forget to work on the Important-Not Urgent ones instead. When setting priorities for my day, I keep in mind this list and try not to focus too much on the Urgent tasks, to the detriment of the Important ones.

 

Do any of these tools work for you? What’s your favorite method for productivity or time management?

Cheers!

-H