All posts by Alexander Van Berg

Poor Design

“Red And Yellow (May Soon Again) Kill A Fellow”

One of the great things about living in the Rio Grande Valley is the sheer lack of natural predators.  In my experience, there are really only two natural predators that come up often enough to really care about: killer bees and coral snakes.

Coral snake photograph by elvissa under the cc-by-sa-2.0 license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en).

Both predators afford most people reasonable opportunities to avoid an attack, and up to the present, most people could also survive an attack if medical attention was rendered.

You might be surprised to know that the remaining supply of coral snake antivenom is scarce, and it expired a long time ago!  Since then, the FDA has repeatedly extended the expiration date of the remaining supply, using laboratory analysis of the supply to justify the extensions.

Well, you can probably visualize the sorry state of affairs if the FDA isn’t throwing out this expired product, but instead performing scientific analysis on it, in the hopes that it’s still good.  That alone tells you things can’t be good.

The science behind coral snake antivenom is simple by today’s standards, and there’s actually only one limitation to its production: cost.  The corporation that used to make it stopped making it because they decided it wasn’t cost effective.  In doing that, one approximation for the price of a human life has been implicitly calculated for us.

Google’s search engine displays text from inside the paywall of this medical journal, and it claims the expiration date of the existing supply is now set at 2024 – one year from now.

Without the antivenom, the current standard of care is essentially to let the patient die in a hospital bed, while simultaneously experimenting on the patient’s body with some slightly-better-than-random, unproven, erratic treatments.  This is indeed a sorry state of affairs for a country this advanced.

Is hope on the horizon?  Yes and no.  On the one hand, we have been looking at producing a novel coral snake antivenom from south of the border.  On the other hand, the official announcement regarding this is… fairly somber:

Trials for the coral snake anti-venom are complete and the product is now an investigational new drug, according to FDA standards. A private entity holds the Investigational New Drug Application and will make the decision about pursuing further FDA approvals needed to commercialize the anti-venom.

There is a great deal to be skeptical about.  A “private entity” owns this investigational new drug and will decide whether or not to try to get it approved medically.

Said differently, we are at T-minus-one-year until the remaining supply of coral snake antivenom expires, again, and the good news is a “private entity” is toying with the idea of having their new experimental drug studied to see if it might work sufficiently and also pass FDA standards.

While we should hope for the best, that small flurry of haphazard, seat-of-your-pants scientific activity is almost a distraction or an excuse for the few informed people that even follow this to feel OK about letting the remaining antivenom supplies dwindle to zero – thus silently condemning a new generation of coral snake bite victims to death.

To me, this is an unprecedented experience, and feels as vulgar and foreign as being informed that for some reason we don’t have any more tetanus vaccines, so new tetanus victims will probably die in a hospital.

The truth is this is a shining example of the need for government intervention.  Government should mandate the production of a reasonable supply of proven antivenom, and provide grants if necessary.

The whole truth is people that live in affected regions – like the Rio Grande Valley – have an interest in making that happen.

Miscellany

Flawless Recall: Universal Memorization Method For Conjugating Regular Spanish Verbs, For Students And Teachers by Alexander Van Berg… Now In Its 8th Edition!

This foundational book has already progressed to its 8th edition.  Helpful diagrams have been added, there is enhanced clarity, and minor errors have been corrected.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B9Q9S6GS

https://books.apple.com/us/book/flawless-recall-universal-memorization-method-for-conjugating/id6443279953

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/flawless-recall-alexander-van-berg/1142006254

https://books2read.com/flawlessrecall

To reiterate my own progress from an earlier post:

Before I designed this system, I had spotty recall on maybe just a few tenses.  I’m now able to write out the entire 18-tense conjugation chart purely from memory, and I also have a better understanding of what the tenses actually are.  (If you’re counting, that chart has upwards of 200 or more facts, and those facts are not conveniently packaged.)

Flawless Recall: Universal Memorization Method For Conjugating Regular Spanish Verbs is better than ever in its 8th edition.  I highly recommend it – there’s never been a better book for reliably learning this aspect of the Spanish language!

Miscellany

Cinematic Vocabulary

If you happened to read one of my older posts, you’d know I’m a fan of Yimou Zhang’s Shanghai Triad.

And if you know anything about me, you know I also like to classify things – perhaps to a dubious level sometimes.

By chance, I recently saw a newer film titled The Wasted Times.

One review on IMDb probably describes it best:

There is not a shot out of place, not a word uttered or note of music that is not just right in this film. I admit I had to watch it twice to get all the nuances. You must listen for when they are speaking Shanghainese or Japanese and you must understand a bit about what was happening in china and shanghai in 1937. There are family ties, triad ties, Japanese secret society ties and love ties. There is betrayal of all these ties. Jumping back and forth in time makes the plot unravel slowly and like a game of mah-jong the final betrayal is revealed when all the tiles are exposed at the end. This is a great movie. It does not have any kung-fu or wire-work or epic slow motion gunfights and white doves – but it is a truly original masterpiece. I recommend it to anyone who wants to see a thoughtful movie and be challenged by what a great piece of cinema is.

So what is the relationship between Shanghai Triad and The Wasted Times?  Well, Hollywood has started to develop a vocabulary for this, and it includes terms like reboot, remake, and re-imagining.

But The Wasted Times doesn’t seem to really match any of those terms.  I’d contend The Wasted Times is a spiritual successor to Shanghai Triad, where a spiritual successor would be one or two levels beyond a re-imagining.  It’s adopting the environment, the general context, and the era, but not any of the specific characters, relationships, or plot lines.

If you enjoyed Shanghai Triad, do yourself a favor and see The Wasted Times.  I have to admit, I was touched by the final scenes – complete with an alien form of chivalry.  It was extremely well done.  In fact, everything was very well done, and it tends to suggest the setting in these two films (1930s Shanghai) really lends itself to a cinematic rendering.  Something about 1930s Shanghai tends to be very crisp, and very compelling, with plenty of surface area for an artist to work with.

Although I probably wouldn’t agree with all of the director’s viewpoints, it’s very hard to argue with the quality of the film.  The Wasted Times is a very worthy and a very formidable spiritual successor to Shanghai Triad.

Still from Er Cheng's The Wasted Times (2016).
Still from Er Cheng’s The Wasted Times (2016).

And now for the dubious levels of classification.

This film incorporates a creative device that I have never seen any vocabulary for: At the end of the film, the main characters briefly meet in a completely different setting for the final resolution.

I think my mental shorthand for this is a Point-Break-style ending, although there are obviously other films that have the same device.

In The Wasted Times, as in the original Point Break, this style of ending works because it further pronounces and embellishes key traits for some of the characters.

Miscellany

Languages Inside Languages

Back in the era of the Iraq War, it was often repeated that Arabic was a “valuable” language to know, in terms of government recruitment efforts.

In the post-Iraq-War era, Arabic remains highly relevant to America, but it seems like America may have new strategic challenges ahead.

It kind of depends on whether you see the glass half full or half empty.

If you think the glass is half full, the USA and China will cooperate on everything and there will be blinding economic prosperity, for many.

If you think the glass is half empty, the USA and China will repeatedly butt heads, and increasing levels of confrontation will be the order of the day.

And here enters the subject of Cantonese, a Chinese language much older than Mandarin (the language favored by the government of China).

Cantonese happens to be spoken by many Chinese dissidents, and it’s currently being used to disseminate anti-government messages inside China.

One could characterize it as the “language of resistance” inside China, and abroad by older generations of the Chinese diaspora.

If the glass is half empty, it makes me wonder if Cantonese might soon be one of those “extremely valuable” languages, in terms of government recruitment efforts.

Weighing in its favor, it’s more of a greenfield language right now.  If you’re applying for a relevant government job, you’re less likely to be competing against an entire room full of Cantonese experts for that job (as compared to Arabic).

Weighing against it is the fact that many Cantonese speakers tend to also know English (technically, the same can be said of Mandarin).  Thus, the necessity isn’t quite as high.

But also weighing in its favor is the fact that the severity of the potential conflicts between the USA and China is quite high – probably a lot higher than conflicts where Arabic was relevant.  This fact alone sort of promotes the value of the language up several notches.

I know next to nothing about Cantonese, but several things in that article fascinated me.  One of them is that Cantonese can be expressed very similarly to Mandarin, while retaining a completely different meaning.  This almost suggests a degree of steganographical potential.  Furthermore, it suggests that automated censors will not be able to handle this.

Great Design

Flawless Recall: Memorizing Spanish Days Of The Week, For Students And Teachers by Alexander Van Berg

Flawless Recall: Memorizing Spanish Days Of The Week, For Students And Teachers has just been published, and this book is interesting.  The paperback version is short, it’s $10, and it’s full color.  It’s roughly 38 pages and mostly pictures, so you could almost call it a “picture book”, but it’s for all ages.  In my opinion, it’s the sort of thing that’s perfect as a small gift for new students of Spanish – for Christmas or any other gift-giving occasion.

The book description probably has the best summary:

Flawless Recall: Memorizing Spanish Days Of The Week is a refreshing and highly effective take on a very old subject: English speakers memorizing the days of the week in Spanish.

Part educational and part mnemonic insight, part riddle and part whodunnit, part comical and part cautionary tale, part celestial and part sinister, and part quixotic and part horrifying, you will never look at Monday morning the same way again!  Most importantly, once and for all, you will remember the days of the week in Spanish!

As a minor rest stop in the Flawless Recall series on the Spanish language, you will analyze the same simple story, forwards and back, several times over.  Afterwards, your mind will thank you as it sinks its teeth into the extremely tractable content.

Memorization is involuntary once you read this short, easy, breezy, and unforgettable Flawless Recall book!  You are now one step closer to conversational Spanish!

Right now the book is working its way to the different marketplaces.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0BLFYBHNV

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0BLPBB7TT

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/flawless-recall-alexander-van-berg/1142630724

https://books.apple.com/us/book/flawless-recall-memorizing-spanish-days-of-the-week/id6444242339

https://books2read.com/daysoftheweek

Great Design

Flawless Recall Expansion Book: Memorize Irregular Conjugations Of QUERER, For Students And Teachers by Alexander Van Berg

Flawless Recall Expansion Book: Memorize Irregular Conjugations Of QUERER, For Students And Teachers has been published, and in a fitting tribute to the Spanish verb querer, the book will be available for FREE, or as close to FREE as each individual marketplace will allow!

This represents an unbeatable value for anyone who has already learned the original, foundational system in Flawless Recall: Universal Memorization Method For Conjugating Regular Spanish Verbs, and for new students of Spanish, it makes the value proposition even more alluring.

A very motivated student could learn the foundational system in the original book, read this expansion book for free, and then start writing memorization content for any irregular verb that he’s interested in.

The book is currently working its way to the different marketplaces.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BJF6KF1STEST

https://books.apple.com/us/book/flawless-recall-expansion-book-memorize-irregular-conjugations/id6443878756TEST

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/flawless-recall-expansion-book-alexander-van-berg/1142529427TEST

https://books2read.com/querer

Great Design

Flawless Recall: Memorizing Spanish Demonstrative Pronouns & Demonstrative Determiners, For Students And Teachers by Alexander Van Berg… A Handy Visual Chart for 99¢

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BH2LKSC4/

https://www.etsy.com/listing/1302901522/flawless-recall-memorizing-spanish

Spanish demonstrative pronouns (e.g. este, esta, esto, etc.) and demonstrative determiners have always been too easy to get confused and too asymmetrical for my mind.  I drew up a pretty good chart that really helps with that, and I found that it’s surprisingly easy to take something as small as a couple of visual charts and offer it for sale.

Great Design

Flawless Recall Expansion Book: Memorize Irregular Conjugations Of SER, For Students And Teachers by Alexander Van Berg

My third book is currently being published.  My first follow-up book covered the Spanish verb estar, and this second follow-up book covers the Spanish verb ser.  Both of these expansion books utilize and extend the foundational system in the original book.

Considering estar and ser are loosely related, conflated, and easily confused, I figured it made sense to publish distinctive works on this pair of frequently used verbs.  And so in a way, these two expansion books are worth more than the sum of their parts.

In my opinion, this book has some of the best mnemonics and visualizations yet.

One of the strong selling points of this series of Flawless Recall books is it provides enough instruction so that you can eventually generate your own custom expansion content for any irregular verb that you like.  And for the ambitious student or teacher, they could possibly take the entire system, and look at adapting it to a completely different language.

The book is currently working its way to the different marketplaces.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BHNZ4WSV

https://books.apple.com/us/book/flawless-recall-expansion-book-memorize-irregular-conjugations/id6443567341

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1142359150

https://books2read.com/ser

Great Design

The Claim (2000), Extremely Underrated And Much More

American poster for The Claim (2000).

 

I was very impressed the first time I saw The Claim, which wasn’t that long ago.  I had never heard of this film, and at 6.3 on IMDb, this has to be one of the most underrated films on the site, after filtering out more minor works.  I’d have to rate it at least 9.0 out of 10, and I don’t say that lightly.

The Claim is various complex stories wrapped up in a very simple story.  The simple story being an old, cruel America finally being replaced by a more effective and newer, old, cruel America.  (And of course, all of these iterations of America would finally get us to the relatively advanced America we live in today.)

Although American politicians and the United States military demarcated America’s boundaries, all of that land would only become America through the confluence of various inviolable determinations, and this is captured brilliantly in The Claim.

There were always two manifest destinies, or at least two facets to the ill-defined term.  The simple story in The Claim is a haunting story.  The original victors of the geographical manifest destiny are rendered extinct by ushers of the chronological manifest destiny.

I’m not sure why, but this film has not received the attention that it deserves.  I believe it should be inducted into the US National Film Registry as important and compelling Americana.  And all of this is made just slightly more strange by the fact that it was a co-production between Canada and Britain.

I purchased the DVD and I watched it for a second time with Spanish audio.  It transferred very well with Spanish audio, although some of the Spanish translations do not do justice to the original English lines.  The film definitely holds up over time, and my guess is that it delivers in any language.

Great Design

Flawless Recall Expansion Book: Memorize Irregular Conjugations Of ESTAR, For Students And Teachers by Alexander Van Berg

I released my first book last month, and now I’ve released a follow-up to it – Flawless Recall Expansion Book: Memorize Irregular Conjugations Of ESTAR, For Students And Teachers.

This follow-up book is very, very interesting because it demonstrates how the original system for regular Spanish verbs can be re-used, to a significant degree, for different irregular Spanish verbs.

To anyone who’s struggled with this aspect of Spanish, and wanted to finally memorize these conjugations, I can’t recommend these books enough!

Right now the book is working its way to the different marketplaces.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BFCVN3NX

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/flawless-recall-expansion-book-alexander-van-berg/1142239905

https://www.etsy.com/listing/1305006085/flawless-recall-expansion-book-memorize

https://books2read.com/estar

Given that irregular Spanish verbs tend to be even more jagged and chaotic than regular Spanish verbs, a good memorization system really makes sense.

The common teaching style in schools tends to revolve around rote memorization, and the analogy here would be traveling in Japan from Tokyo to Kyoto.  Rote memorization is like crawling there with a heavy ball and chain shackled to your ankle, while a good mnemonic system is like taking the bullet train.  Yes, the bullet train still takes time to get there, but it gets there a lot faster than crawling, and more importantly, it’s also reliable.