timeless truths

In high school English class, we learnt about the idea of a “classic” novel, and discussed what made something a “classic”. One characteristic that might not have stood out for me back then, but certainly stands out for me now, is the notion of “timelessness” — that a novel becomes a classic because it is timeless in its themes, ideas and moral messages.

Part of me thinks that it was probably a bit pointless for the teachers to discuss timelessness with teenagers. I mean, we weren’t daft, but we were young, and as much as we probably believed we knew everything about the world, there was undoubtedly a lot that we didn’t know the half of. Besides, even back then, there was a quick succession of crazes and fads and fashions — there’s not much appreciation of “timelessness” when one day everyone’s watching this show, and playing this game, and then next month these things are barely a memory.

Even so, I’d like to think that I had some grasp of this idea of “timelessness”. In high school, I began reading a lot of “classics”, particularly Charles Dickens. It was also during high school that I discovered I really like Jane Austen’s writing. To my younger self, these books were classics because they were beautifully written, the stories and characters were exquisitely constructed, and they were simply captivating. Then there is all the usual stuff about love and friendship and family — the things that people throughout history have always valued.

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hot topics

Thermodynamics was not something I expected to think much about after high school, but as I grasped my coffee cup with both hands while going up the stairs at work, I found myself thinking about thermodynamics and the transfer of heat, and about how wonderful it is that these concepts exist and have been explained.

It suddenly got very cold here around the middle of the week. On Wednesday when I left work, my watch told me that it was 18 degrees (Celsius) outside. I was surprised and thought it must be a mistake. But when I got outside, I felt like it was about 10 degrees, the air was so icy cold.

So on Thursday morning, I got a coffee from the cafe a few floors down from my workplace. They have a tendency of making the coffee quite hot (or a friend suggested I might just have a sensitive mouth that cannot handle high temperatures), but that morning I was grateful for the extra hot coffee, as I could allow the heat to warm my cold hands.

As I walked back up the stairs, I thought about the idea of heat energy, and of the movement of molecules caused by this energy. I thought most of all about how heat always goes from a warmer object to a cooler object, and about the concept of specific heat capacity, which explains why different materials absorb or lose heat at different rates.

And I thought about my high school chemistry/physics teacher, and about that semester of learning thermodynamics, and how most teenagers who don’t intend to pursue science or engineering careers probably think it’s all pointless. But how positively wonderful is it to be able to experience these phenomena — like the phenomena of heat transfer — and be able to know why and how it happens?

much to do

Not feeling much like writing this week because of being busy with life. Not overly busy, but just doing things. Here’s a run down:

I’ve been continuing with trying to learn Russian, but now I’ve decided to use two different websites instead of relying on just one. The one I’ve added (Memrise) has the benefit of having recordings of actual people saying the words and phrases, which you’d hope is more accurate and true to real Russian.

If I try to do even just a little bit of learning every day, I’m hoping I can get decent level in a few years or so. I have a book of Russian stories I’d like to be able to read one day, but I know that day is quite far away (unless I really dedicate a significant amount of time to learning).

As for other reading, after realising that I haven’t been sticking to my own advice to someone else about reading a little bit every day, I’ve been trying to make sure I read a bit whenever I can. Sure, it’s not quite back to a daily habit yet, but I think I’m making more progress with War and Peace than I was, say, a month or two ago.

Speaking of War and Peace, I’ve discovered that I’m more engaged with the book in the parts about the relationships between people, and their lives in Russia. On the other hand, my brain seems to tire more quickly from reading about battles and warfare. Only when there is some description of the individual human experience in the war, do I become more captivated. I think perhaps it’s just harder for me to picture the landscapes and battalion manoeuvres and whatnot than to picture a bunch of people sitting around a drawing room or dining table. 

Either way, I’m still enjoying the book overall, and am far enough along that I can start to have delusions of possibly finishing the book by the end of the year. Only thing I want to add is that I read in the introduction or blurb or somewhere that Pierre is the character most like Tolstoy himself. However, I’ve so far found Pierre to be one of the least likeable characters, which I think is confusing my brain because in Anna Karenina, Levin was the most autobiographical character, and he was my favourite.

Writing this post, I’ve really come to realise that I’ve given myself a lot of things to do that require consistent and frequent effort. The next on the list is piano. I’m very aware that I need to practise piano a lot more than I have been if I want to ever get any good at it, and be able to play the kind of music that I want to play. Of course, in this I have no delusions, as I seem to spend more time on learning Russian and reading books, which seem a lot easier.

Perhaps another area that has been a bit neglected is the garden. After all this rain, the plants are flourishing, but so are the weeds. And I think too much rain builds that complacency of “we don’t need to worry about watering the garden today”, and it quietly slips from the daily routine.

But the clouds have dispersed for now, and the sun has come out. It is the start of the week-end, and there is much to do!

ask vs guess

I read something a long time ago about how most people are either “askers” or “guessers”. I’m pretty sure it was an article online, but I can’t remember how I stumbled upon it, or where the original article was from. Possibly it was shared by a fellow blogger or perhaps it was someone on some other social media.

Anyway, when I read it, I realised that it explains why certain people frustrate me, and I was reminded of it again recently, so I thought I should share this in case other people find it useful. (I thought I might’ve already blogged about this, but I can’t find anything on my blog about askers and guessers. And I guess if I have already written about this, it’s been long enough that I’m allowed to write about it again.)

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the start of my Russian journey

Before I started learning Russian, I had some confidence that if I could pick up Farsi/Persian, then Russian, surely, could not be much harder. Ever since reading Anna Karenina a few years ago, I wanted to learn Russian. Since (obviously) I read an English translation of the novel, and I’ve had very little exposure to the Russian language before, my desire to learn the language was based almost solely on how lovely all the Russian names sounded.

When I actually started learning Russian (about a month ago now), I was quickly dismayed by how hard it was to learn the alphabet. Of course, I knew their alphabet was different, but I thought it would be reasonably easy to pick up since they look similar to English characters. And, yes, several of the letters do look very much like English letters, but a lot of these also have completely different pronunciations.

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the recycling illusion

When I was in Grade 6, my teacher taught us about climate change and global warming. I’m not sure if it was part of the official curriculum, or she was just passionate about it, but it felt like we spent a lot of time learning about greenhouse gases and the ozone layer (or lack thereof). Ever since then, I’ve been concerned about the impact of my actions on the environment.

To be fair, my concern has varied over time, but there’s usually a baseline whisper from my conscience: Do I really need to buy this [item packaged in plastic]? Can I reuse or repurpose this instead of throwing it in the bin? Do I really need to drive, or can I take public transport? Am I using too much water?

Some time ago, I learnt that Australia was exporting plastic recyclables to China for processing, and then China decided it didn’t want our plastic waste anymore. Since there were insufficient local recycling plants to divert this to, all of our plastic recyclables started going straight to landfill. I even remember watching some kind of news story about a Victorian woman who was stockpiling recyclables along the side of her house until the government put a solution in place. (I hope she’s not drowning under piles of used plastics by now.)

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