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My ideas are constantly changing as I learn. Sometimes they even change midway through writing a post.

Monday, February 7

Grammar

I know that last sentence on the previous post wasn't really a proper sentence, but I'm not sure how to put it in a grammatically correct way. Ideas?

I seem to run into that problem a lot. I go to write something and then realize that it isn't grammatically correct. I can often find an alternate wording that is correct, but then the writing doesn't flow as nicely. It might not even quite mean the same thing. In the past, I've just tended to go with the "correct" wording or leave the thought out altogether if I couldn't find a proper way to put it. I did that with spelling too.

I once tried to teach (and learn) grammar by starting with definitions. I was using Harvey's Elementary Grammar and Composition. I explained that the definition of a sentence was "a group of words representing a complete thought". It sounded right although I wasn't sure how one distinguished a complete thought from an incomplete thought. I asked the student if he could give an example of a sentence. The student said, very seriously, "An apple." I knew from years of drills that it wasn't a sentence, but I couldn't figure out why it would be considered incomplete. I decided to do a bit more research into the subject and in the meantime went through examples of sentences and non-sentences with the student. After consulting other parts of the text and several other grammar books, I finally put together that a sentence is considered to have a subject and a predicate. This helped me to better explain how to tell if a sentence is proper although I still couldn't make sense of what it meant for a thought to be "complete".

I wondered why a single word could be a sentence but "An apple," couldn't. I knew that commands seem by implication to have the subject "you" or "you all". Thinking about it now, "An apple" could be a subject or it could be part of the predicate. It could be in the context of anything from "This is an apple." to "An apple fell from a tree". Still, I can't help the feeling that this idea of a sentence is a convention for grouping thoughts. It may be very good and useful convention, but I still don't understand what it has to do with whether a thought is complete or not.

Quality

Quality is stuck in my head. I was reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. It comes across as a sort of fundamental answer or question. I don't think I quite understand what it's supposed to mean. He (the author) talks about it being undefinable and how attempts to define it take one off track and prevent one from really getting at it. It didn't seem like such an important idea - at least not so important as it seems to be to the author. I think quality is a thing well done. How well? I don't know. What does it mean to do a thing well? That depends on the problems one is trying to solve. What problems should one solve? The important ones. Which are the important ones?

One idea that I enjoyed running across in the book was the idea of lateral drift. It was the idea that when one is stuck on a question or problem, it can be good to just let go and do or think of other things. Things that don't necessarily seem related.

Sunday, February 6

Chess

When I first attempted to play chess as a child, I thought it was extremely complex and confusing and I couldn't figure out how to play it correctly, much less how to enjoy playing. When a six year old child I knew learned to play and wanted me to play too, I decided to give it another try. I found an introductory book and figured it out. It still didn't appeal to me much although I didn't mind playing now and then. From what I understood of it, it could take a lot of study to be able to play well.

That didn't seem to apply to the child, however, because she routinely won against me - often within 4 moves. Finally, someone took pity on me and explained about a Scholar's Mate. I tried feebly to defend myself against it, but more often than not, I'd forget about the threatened mate and move my own defense! Such a strategy doesn't work on someone who is paying attention and knows how to defend, but a surprising number of "good" players don't pay attention. Even if they do, there are a few additional moves that can trip them up and result in either checkmate or losing some valuable pieces. The problem, I thought, is that such players are trying to play according to certain rules and strategies and not looking much at the actual game.

Now there are some really good players who don't seem to have any difficulty with defending against such mates and against the majority of other players as well. It seems that the truly excellent players combine knowledge of strategy, skill at analysis, and serious attention to the game at hand.

I was thinking that there are a few assumptions and rules I have about playing. Some are things I've read or been told are good ideas, others are ones I've thought of myself (which may or may not be how other people think about it), and some are specific to me because of particular mistakes I tend to make. I don't always manage to remember them all, and I'm not an "excellent" player, so they're up for criticism:

Don't count on the opponent making a particular move.
Plan as much as possible for any move the opponent might make.
Know your weaknesses and defend them.
Know your opponent's weaknesses and attack them.
Make every move count.
Make the best possible move every turn.
Support every piece.
Don't be afraid to allow a piece to be threatened.
Some pieces are more valuable than others: King, Queen, Rooks, Bishops and Knights, pawns.
Sometimes, it is worth losing a more valuable piece in exchange for 2 lesser pieces.

Friday, February 4

My Search for Meaning

"One of the prisoners, who on his arrival marched with a long column of new inmates from the station to the camp, told me later that he had felt as though he were marching at his own funeral. His life had seemed to him absolutely without future. He regarded it as over and done, as if he had already died." p. 113 of Man's Search for Meaning

When I posted the quote a while back, I didn't know what to say about it. I've sometimes felt very much like that -- as if my life was absolutely without future and I was just waiting to die. No, I've never been in a prison camp nor have I been horribly abused either as an adult or as a child. My childhood wasn't exactly wonderful and there are things about it that some might consider "abuse", but there was plenty of good in it. I've definitely had some challenges and made mistakes, but thinking about it now, none of it seems to warrant such a bleak outlook.

The problem, I think, was feeling that I had no real choices. My parents were pretty strict and kept control over a lot of what I did. I clung to the idea that if I could just make it to be an adult, to be independent, things would get better. That thought kept me going and trying to prepare for the day when I'd finally be free.

Still, sometimes it felt like I'd never escape. I'd wish I didn't have to keep going. One day, I realized I didn't have to. It occurred to me to run away or commit suicide. It made me feel a bit better that I could just end things if I wanted to. I wondered how one made a decision like that. I don't think I was seriously tempted by the idea. I think it was more a feeling of curiosity and, in a way, a feeling of surprise that I DID have a choice, after all. I think it was curiosity and hope, if not optimism, that kept me going. I wanted to know what life would be like as an adult. I remembered that, though it seemed far away, the day would come when I would be "free" and wanted to have good grades, so I could go to college and have the best possible options available to me.

I didn't know much about what I would do at college or after that. I think it was hard for me to really imagine about. I worried that something horrible would happen to me before I got to be an adult. I'd die in a car or other freak accident and never get to experience freedom or making more of my own choices. I was tempted to try out a lot of the things other teenagers were doing - not because I thought I was invincible, but because I was afraid I'd die before life really got good. I didn't want to take any chances. At some point, about a year or so before I graduated, I started to feel that I would make it after all. I'd met a nice guy, the day of my freedom was nearing and my parents loosened up a bit. Finally, the day after graduation, I was up at 8am loading my stuff into trucks and moving out...