Weird pulse of views

The topic of this blog is rather esoteric and thus not likely to generate much interest. I don’t write these posts to try to attract a lot of readers. Native Spanish speakers, in Spain or Mexico, and especially foodies, already know all the menu and cooking terms I discuss, so they’re unlikely to be searching for the kind of information I discover. Also most non-Spanish speakers probably think they can get by just fine with only knowing a few bits of phrasebook Spanish. So what audience is really interested in fairly obscure food terms, not available from dictionaries, on menus? Not many?

But I might expect, every now and then, someone struggling with the same words/phrases I’ve encountered and thus searches might bring them here. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, even when I’m searching for something obscure Google never sends me to this blog even though I have far more extensive information than anywhere else Google finds.

So I don’t expect a lot of traffic, but like any writer it’s interesting to see if anyone comes to visit and WordPress does provide some simple statistical analysis. Long ago I actually wrote code to process the logs that web servers create so I know what can be extracted from them, a bit more than WordPress provides, but not a lot. So I do find it curious to check from time to time. Which means I have a fairly good sense of what steady state level of visits are.

So it was very surprising that during December I registered a fairly large pulse of hits, both page views and visitors. Unlike the case where a particular post attracts attention I saw: a) much larger number of unique readers (as contrasted to one reader viewing multiple posts), b) most readers read only one post and conversely the posts that were read only had one reader, and, c) there was no apparent pattern in which posts were read (not in any single category or under a tag nor in any list). The data almost looks completely random (and perhaps it is, maybe someone experimented with web spidering, i.e. a bot doing the reads).

Now my hypothesis was that perhaps some teacher (possibly for cooking instead of Spanish) had stumbled onto my blog and recommended to students to take a look, but the data didn’t support that. Likewise I thought, until seeing it was many people only reading one post, that someone discovered my blog, possibly writing a cookbook, and so found a ton on interesting material, also an idea not supported by the data.

So, IOW, I have no idea what this pulse, about 300% more than normal, was all about and I didn’t get any new subscribers and the pulse has disappeared so it is just a mystery. So back to the normal.

Repurposing this blog

I started this blog in 2017Dec with a narrow purpose of documenting my development of a sufficient corpus of menu terms, focused on Spain, in order to develop a translation aid. This is still my interest but due three years of work AND recent circumstances I’ve broadened my interest.

I started with the assumption I could achieve my goal without actually learning Spanish. While I still believe that is possible I nonetheless decided to try to learn Spanish, which despite being a fairly easy language to learn, my several previous attempts completely failed. I’ve reported some progress on this goal (i.e. going reasonably well) already so I won’t repeat. However my study methods have steadily progressed now including a two-hour weekly class, moved to Zoom which means I now have the access for all types of study, including interaction conversation.

So all that, plus the COVID outbreak, has induced me to reconsider my goals and thus the purpose of this blog.

I had assumed, nearly three years ago, that by now I would have actually made a real trip to Spain to put my effort to test. Since I wouldn’t be doing travel alone I’d also had to compromise my travel plan (small villages in the vicinity of the Camino de Santiago to really get immersed, avoid the tourist spots (mostly) where Spanish would be irrelevant) to a more typical tourist plan (big cities, especially Barcelona where Catalan would be more useful), in fact, so watered down it wasn’t very appealing any more.

The prospect of a less interesting (to me) trip to Spain triggered a brief interest in going to Ecuador as neither of us have ever been in the southern hemisphere and thus it became a jointly interesting alternative. For me, while Ecuador has plenty of tourism, it looked like being able to communicate in Spanish would be more important in Spain, especially since that trip’s agenda had become the places where English would be widely spoken.

But, alas, we’re happy we didn’t book our trip, tentatively for April 2020, back in the fall of 2019. Who could have predicted travel would be almost completely shutdown! And Ecuador, in addition to previously unexpected economic problems (and thus social disruption) had a fairly severe outbreak. Being old enough to be in the more vulnerable age group and uncertain how our adequate (at home) health insurance would have worked in Ecuador I’m happy we didn’t stranded there, and, sad we didn’t get to have that experience.

So on rethinking possible travel plans I began to reconsider Mexico, specifically Oaxaca. Mi esposa has already been there and loved it. In turn I learned that driving around there was reasonably doable, which is important to me as I like to explore the countryside, not just hang where all the other tourists are. So if I can take a long walk, at least I can get out and given my main GPS can be adapted to Mexico we could even do some geodashing. At the time of this new trip planning: a) it looked like Mexico was actually doing better with COVID than the USA and literally Oaxaca could be safer than Iowa (where our favorite and very authentic Mexican restaurant is and was closed, and, b) that most countries would get COVID under control so that travel would be possible again in 2020.

But that isn’t to be either. Mexico now has high growth rate in cases and, of course, the USA, due to its extremely unwise policy of re-opening too soon is spiking again, quite possibly even worse than the first wave, possibly leading the other countries banning us from entering their countries as disease carriers which would very likely include Spain and perhaps even Mexico. I can’t exactly go on a three week vacation (probably the longest we can muster) and spend two weeks on it in quarantine!

So what does this have to do with my project and this blog?

Well, it means: a) since USA is being totally stupid about COVID, there is no timeframe where I can now reasonably predict that foreign travel might be possible, certainly not in 2020, and I believe even unlikely for 2021, at least until the fall, and, b) actually learning Spanish is something I can do while stuck at home and eating in Spain is not. Even if a vaccine that actually works (instead of the fantasy vaccines the great scientist Jared Kushner is pushing) is available in early 2021, it will probably be at least a year before enough people have received it to have reasonable herd immunity developed.

While I was working on Spanish menus I did learn a lot, which I may summarize in a future post, including that, well, food in Spain while sometimes intriguing BUT it is not as interesting, or flavorful as Mexican food, which is wildly more diverse by visiting Mexico than one can find in the USA, despite Mexican food now being the most popular “ethnic” cuisine in the US. And it happens that I like to cook (me quiero cocinar) and I’m reasonably good at it, ingredients for Mexican food are readily available here (and btw, shopping in nearby predominantly Hispanic stores is a change to practice a little of my Spanish anyway) I’ve decided to shift my project focus to …

reading cookbooks and recipes in Spanish (and accumulate food terms) …

… instead of menus from Spain.

Needless to say there is a huge amount of material available online and in print. I already have about 10 cookbooks, although all in English, for Mexican food so it’s a fairly simple transition.

During my searches on websites in Spain I did discover that either descriptions of food (on menus) or recetas I often found actually were better material to use as study materials for learning Spanish. In fact, that’s part of why I have (still unfinished) massive list of cooking verbs, which I’ll now expand to all sorts of cooking terms.

So now a focus of someday visiting Mexico, which would have been great anyway, for the food, and all manner of Spanish text related to cooking, will be the material I’ll be using for future posts.

Decades ago I had actually tried to accumulate a glossary of food terms in Spanish. At that time I didn’t realize the huge diversity of terms, while all in “Spanish”, that were very regional. And, in particular, I found all sorts of terms from Mexico (also Puerto Rico) that would be almost unknown in Spain, especially as many of those terms are really Spanish-ified indigent language, for instance, the most obvious chocolate  (English or Spanish) which is from xocolātl. So, if one just compiles a glossary from other glossaries and dictionaries one finds on the Net quickly the compilation becomes a mashup of terms that are only known in a few places, IOW, not the canonical “Spanish”. Already in my class, where our teacher is in Cuernavaca, I learned some interesting differences, e.g. Duolingo teaches tomato as tomate (as do most dictionaries) when in Mexico my teacher explained it’s jitomate (for a fully ripe tomato and tomate as an unripe tomato, or the reference to the plant, not its fruit). So on my second try that’s why I only used terms I found on actual menus in Spains (sometimes, amusingly, still including terms from Mexico since in a few big cities in Spain there were Mexican restaurants)

So, as long as I’m careful I can explore Spanish cooking materials from Mexico and add new terms to my corpus, but being careful to learn if the terms are more localized to Mexico and/or would be known by anyone in Spain. IOW, I’ll still achieve my original goal but with even more material.

So, my re-purposing is really not so big a shift and I hope to find some interesting food terms to discuss in the future as well as continue to plod along developing my app.

¡Volví! ¿me extrañaste? Ha sido un tiempo.

Si, puedo tutearse ya que nosotros son amigos. Or IOW, I can address you, Dear Reader, as since we’re friends here. And to my new friends, who may read this blog for the first time I’m old and thus more likely senior to you and so I don’t have to use the formal ustedes.

I haven’t written any posts about Spanish to use for food and restaurants as is the plan for this blog since I’ve been very busy. I haven’t lost interest and intend to continue more exciting posts about interesting Spanish terminology you’ll find on menus in Spain (and, mostly, for other Spanish speaking countries).

When I started finding and decoding menus along the Camino de Santiago in Spain I didn’t know any Spanish. I thought I could still figure out the Spanish on menus by associating what I find on menus with either human or automated translations, plus a lot of searching for more obscure (non dictionary) terms. Several people insisted I’d need to learn Spanish in order to do this, but, initially, I dismissed that suggestion.

I didn’t try to learn Spanish because I had tried in the past with little success, using the conventional learning materials. But, fortunately, there are new tools today. So I’m now on my 352nd day of using Duolingo to actually try to learn the language. Duolingo is great and I’m about half way through its Spanish course. But at the same time I found I needed to do other things and fortunately there are lots of other sources to use for study.

So I’ve done about 64,000 individual drills in Duolingo and so have picked up over 3000 words. I can (just barely) get through the A1 CERF tests. I’ve also “read” about 50 beginner stories, plus even tried some literature (way beyond even A2 level, but interesting to try). I’ve “read” (with lots of help from dictionary since the vocabulary is more extensive than Duolingo) lots of recipes (recetas) and descriptive text at numerous restaurant websites in Spain. So I get a lot of practice reading.

But I don’t get any practice speaking (no partner/tutor/teacher for that) and not much practice listening (Duo’s audio is easier than real speaking), but I try to follow numerous TV programs or even specialized programs, like the wonder La Casa de las Flores on Netflix. When I started all spoken Spanish was just a blur of sound to me, but now I can catch a little bit. I still don’t have enough vocabulary to recognize enough of the words to detect word boundaries, which really (to my ear) blur together in spoken Spanish.

So while I have another year to study ahead, to finish the Duolingo course and probably get near the A2 level and then also maybe have 5000 word vocabulary I’ve learned enough that it’s much easier for me to read restaurant websites. I’ve had lots of opportunity to see what the automated translation does right and wrong and so I can use both my knowledge, the automated translations and additional analysis to get most of the content.

Thus I should be able to do even better posts. Even though I didn’t know the language, before, I did figure out enough, IMHO, to find and describe some interesting things about Spanish menus, so now I expect to do even better.

Also, in previous posts I described my “virtual” trek on the Camino. Simply, to encourage myself to do exercise on my treadmill, I converted my exercise mileage along a GPS track to find my location on Google Maps and then use their overhead views, photos, the StreetView (when available) and other geotagged sites to “explore” the Camino. And as I previously posted I eventually did the entire distance, 796.4km (about 500 miles) to  Santiago de Compostela.

So, after getting there, I needed a new “virtual” trek goal so as I previously posted I started the French part of the Camino, starting a Le Puy en Velay and I’ve now reached Conques, 125 miles. While “walking” the Spanish part I “stopped” at every restaurant and hotel/albergue to look at all the photos, mostly of food or menus. I could do the same thing in France (and sometimes do) but information about that route is less plentiful and what I find on Google Maps is both French language and French food, which is wonderful (I did have some French in school), but not my goal. So that virtual trek has not been as engaging to me and thus I haven’t done any posts about it (and probably won’t).

Meanwhile I really want to turn all this purely vicarious activity into something real so I continue to look at two things: a) some Spanish speaking country to visit, not just as tourist, but really trying to get to know, and now my focus is on Ecuador, but probably only after some of the political unrest there settles down, and, b) trying to do one of the immersive language study programs in a Spanish speaking country (some excellent sources of these things can be found online).

So I have lots to keep me busy and thus I won’t have time for as many posts as I was originally doing, but now I’ll try to find something, still focused on food, to discuss.

One of my next projects will be this:

abarquillar abrillantar abrir acabar acanalar acaramelar aceitar aceptar achicharrar acidular acitronar aderezar adobar agregar ahumar albardar alcanzar aliñar almibarar almorzar amar amasar añadir andar anisar apagar aparecer aplanar aplastar aprender aromatizar asar asustar atar aviar ayudar bañar bardar batir beber blanquear brasear bridar buscar caer calentar cambiar capear caramelizar cascar catar cenar cepillar cernir chafar chamuscar chorrear cincelar clarificar cocer cocinar colar combinar comenzar comer comprar comprender condimentar conducir confitar congelar conocer conseguir conservar considerar contar convertir correr cortar crear creer cuajar cubrir cumplir dar deber decantar decidir decir decorar degustar dejar derramar derretir desalar desayunar desbabar desbardar desbridar descamar descansar descongelar descubrir desengrasar desglasar desgranar desgrasar deshuesador deshuesar desleír desmoldar desnatar desplumar desvenar dirigir disfrutar doblar dorar dormir echar emborrachar embridar empanar empanizar empezar emplatar emulsionar encender encontrar endulzar enfriar engrasar enharinar entender entrar envolver escabechar escaldar escalfar escamar escribir escuchar escurrir especiar esperar espesar espolvorear espumar estar estirar estofar estudiar evaporar existir explicar exprimir fermentar filetear flambear flamear formar forrar freír frotar fundir ganar glasear gratinar guisar gustar haber hablar hacer helar hervir hornear humear humedecer imaginar incorporar instilar intentar introducir ir jugar laminar lavar leer levantar levar ligar limpiar llamar llegar llenar llevar lograr machacar majar mantener marear marinar masticar mechar medir mezclar mirar mojar moldear moler mondar montar morir mover nacer napar necesitar nevar ocurrir ofrecer oír oler pagar paño parecer partir pasar pasteurizar pedir pelar pensar perder perfumar permitir picar pinchar pochar poder poner precalentar preguntar preparar presentar probar producir quedar quemar querer quitar rallar realizar rebanar rebozar recalentar recibir recomendar reconocer recordar reducir regar regresar rehogar rellenar remojar remover repetir reservar restregar resultar revisar revolver rociar romper rostir saber sabor sacar salar salir salpicar salpimentar saltear sancochar sazonar secar seguir sellar sentir ser servir soasar socarrar sofreír subir sumergir suponer tajar tamizar tapar tener terminar tocar tomar tostar trabajar traducir traer transferir tratar trinchar triturar trocear trufar untar usar utilizar vaciar vaporar vaporear vaporizar venir ver verter viajar vivir voltear volver

Yes, that’s a massive list of the verbs I’ve found in over twenty different sources that relate to cooking or dining. Finding, extracting, cleaning up, merging and then getting “consensus” translations is tedious work but I’m chugging through this list (far bigger than any single list I found anywhere online) and will surely have some material for posts and probably another page (like my glossary) to provide what I think will be the most comprehensive online list. The one I marked with bold are the ones I now just know from my Duolingo study, not bad for an old dog who knew zero Spanish a year ago. But this also shows how little food/cooking/restaurant information is available in standard Spanish courses and how much more there is to learn.

By the way here are some verbos of interest:

desayunar to eat breakfast (el desayuno)
almorzar to eat lunch (el almuerzo)
cenar to eat dinner (la cena)
comer to eat
beber/tomar to drink

So plenty to do and hopefully more interesting posts to follow.

So

Vamos a caminar y comer.

and

¡buen provecho!

 

Back to menus; a big project

My primary purpose for this blog is to record my progress in developing an application to translate menus in Spain. I worked diligently on this for about nine months but then got into some side-trips in other projects. But now I’m trying to get back to that primary objective.

For 78 days now I’ve also been trying to actually learn Spanish via the nice online application, Duolingo. While this diverted me from my primary task it has been useful. My sister always thought my idea was silly and that instead I should just learn the language. That’s not a bad idea but it looked harder (and more time consuming) than my primary limited work just to read menus, based on the assumption I’d soon be heading to Spain to tour along the route of the Camino de Santiago. Therefore I needed results sooner than I could learn the language.

To build my application I’d first need a large corpus of terms from menus with accurate English equivalents. To do that I’d import the text from websites into a working document and crunch through all the terms. Often that gave me some interesting observations that I was converting to posts, hopefully also interesting to my readers. Obviously there are going to be mistakes in manually collating data so my corpus needed to be carefully curated, with the terms and my “guesses” at translation with a “confidence” factor. Then via the large corpus I could extract the accurate equivalent Spanish to English translations I’d need for the application.

That’s a long slog so a couple of times I went ahead and created a minimally curated “glossary” which I have as a page here at this site. In my searches I found a number of glossaries, or even dictionaries in Spanish, covering food. Years ago when I first got interested in these I just extracted all the glossaries I could find and manually collated them into a single glossary. It was a mess!

The trouble is that food terms in Spanish (my searches) yield results that either don’t apply to Spain’s food dialect or were just wrong. After all any other person who compiles glossaries makes mistakes too. Or I’d make mistakes extracting and collating them. And my lack of any fluency in Spanish meant I often misinterpreted the raw material I was attempting to organize. That previous experience convinced me I needed to be very precise about collating material AND focused on Spain as the source of the raw material and so my idea about creating a corpus evolved.

But in nearly a year I still don’t have that corpus. And without it I can’t build my application. And in the meantime I needed to get some “drill” code done since I reached the point where I was forgetting more than I was learning. And while Duolingo is fairly good for learning Spanish it’s not as good for repeating previous lessons (and their vocabulary). And repetition is the key to learning a language. So I found myself forgetting vocabulary I’d once before acquired.

So I set out to build a drill application, which has some of the same elements I’d need in the translation application. And like compiling glossaries I’ve done this also, in the past – the first time for Italian food terms. So I’ve built drill programs before with only limited success.

The key to a drill program is to be efficient and force me to do repetitions of the vocabulary I know the least well. That’s harder than it sounds. Plus most of the types of drill I did (glorified flashcards, a common language learning technique) took so much time that as my vocabulary grew my repetition, of any particular word, got less and less frequent. Even with an hour a day I could only repeat a fraction of the vocabulary I’d acquired.

So I had some ideas how to improve this and make the drill more efficient. But I needed data even to do the programming. So I fairly quickly assembled the glossary I posted at this blog without being too concerned about its accuracy.

So with that lengthy background now I can describe what I’ve more recently done and the “big project” I’m now doing. I built my first version of the drill application centered around the Duolingo vocabulary. As I’d do each lesson I would fairly careful assemble the “database” (a complex XML) to feed the feed program. For my Duo vocabulary that now contains about 1100 “terms” and 1400 “forms” of those terms. By forms I mean the usual four spellings of adjectives (in Spanish both gender and number) and the first set of conjugations for verbs. Getting all that going for Duo vocabulary drills got me a fairly useful and efficient drill program which is helpful as a supplement to Duolingo.

So then using that code and crunching the glossary I’d assembled here I started on the food terms. And that was a bit of a mess because the glossary sucked.

So to fix this I went back to my 30 or so working documents of all the menus I’d processed. Rather than the more difficult chore of extracting material for a well curated corpus I just quickly (a couple of days) just extracted all the accumulated Spanish. That’s a tedious chore but it does reveal some of the problems of getting “raw” material from the websites. Naturally I found lots of spelling mistakes (easier for me to recognize now that I know a little Spanish) but also the inconsistencies in gender and sometimes number. Also many instances of words are very inconsistent on the use of accents in the Spanish words. My Duolingo study also let me learn the rule that accents sometimes change (for real, not typos) in certain circumstances.

So once I’d compiled all my “words” from all menus I had about 10,000 “raw” bits that I was able to clean up, de-duplicate and consolidate (like all the forms of adjectives under a single “term”) and ended up with about 5500 lines.

Then in a separate process I took the latest (v3.3) copy of my glossary and then combined that with about six other glossaries. That was a chore and resulted in about 4000 entries.

So then I combined these, all the glossary “words” and all the menu “words” and started going through all that by hand. I’m now down with everything through M (since I sort all 9000 or so lines into alphabetic order). I’ve done a few hundred “fixes” to my glossary and about 100 additions. But more importantly all those changes are in my XML “database” for the drill program. With a bit of code I can then extract from that XML to create text I can paste into the glossary page here.

So when I’m finally done with all that tedious manual work I can update my glossary and it will be a big change so I’ll make that the v4.0 version which I believe will be quite a bit better than my current v3.3 but not as good as a curated corpus needs to be. And, really my glossary will then mostly contain words that exist in reference sources (several online dictionaries I use) and/or reconciliation with the other glossaries I found.

Please note, therefore, than my word product is fully derivative from many sources and my editorial work and thus constitutes “original” work. I’m quite conscious of never (almost never) posting anything in this blog that would violate copyright, i.e. the wholesale use of someone else’s glossary.

And now all my material is synchronized – my XML database for the drill program, my derived glossary with reconciliation to other glossaries or reference sources, and I’m only including terms in either place that I’ve found in menus so my product is more closely aligned with Spain dialect and I can exclude other Spanish food terms.

Now, while that isn’t done, I’m back into the code for my drill program. In the case of my Duolingo vocabulary I feed into the drill program I (mostly) know that vocabulary by memory. Duolingo is divided into lessons (aka skills) that require 40 actual drills (to pass the skill and unlock the next one) which means about 800 individual drills. At Duolingo I’ve now done 16,843 “XPs” over 31 skills. On average each skill introduces around 30 words (forms actually). So when I do my “refresh my memory” drills with that vocabulary I have relatively few words I ever mark as uncertain, or worse, “I’m wrong” or “I’m clueless” (really forgot). That means all the scoring I’ve done with that vocabulary has relatively few “errors” and my aggregate score on most terms is 100%.

In contrast I’m much worse on my new food vocabulary. As I’d work on menus I’d “learn” many words, but since I had almost no repetition of those (the most common words appear on many menus so that was my repetition) and I’d done none of my own drill. Now that I have something to feed my drill program I’m getting a lot more “bad” scores. That’s good and bad. It’s bad because it means I don’t know those words very well, by memory. It’s good because now all the scoring of the drills I record in the XML has a lot more data than the drills on Duolingo vocabulary.

So that means back to programming. How do I consolidate tens of thousands of individual drills into some sort of metric that rates each word in the vocabulary as to how well I know it (and/or don’t confuse similar terms). Because I want to drill myself on what I know the least. I don’t very much need to drill on carne or aqua or cerveza or a few hundred other food words and I don’t want to waste the limited time I have for drills (even less than my free time because drill is tedious and I can only tolerate a certain amount each day). So that’s now the algorithms I’m trying to develop so my drill program is even more efficient and therefore more useful.

So while I thought I’d be done with this by now I have probably another week to finish cleaning up my food vocabulary and enhancing up my drill program.  But once I’m done with that I can spend 15-30 minutes every day (or most days) so I get more of the food vocabulary into longer-term memory along with a growing Duolingo vocabulary. Thus I’d hope to have reasonable fluency within a few months so soon I may need to head to some Spanish speaking country to test myself.

Now, note, all this is “reading” (and less “writing”) Spanish. Hearing or speaking is an entirely different problem. But without mastery over much of the vocabulary actual conversation is pretty hopeless. I’d originally assumed I’d have no more audible Spanish than a few phrases and the rest I’d do through reading (plenty of time to study a menu, have to be fast to have conversation).

Now, finally, all this I’m just doing for myself, other than relating some hopefully “interesting” tidbits here in the blog. While I’ve built many software products over my working life all this I’m just doing for myself. But at least, as a derivative from this work, I do hope to end up with the best glossary for food terms in Spain here at this blog as my contribution to others who might need this.

 

A Camino not taken

Since I lived in California, in Palo Alto, not far from the major street El Camino Real I have known that ‘camino’ means way or route or road. What I’ve now learned is that it is derived from the verb caminar and the first person singular (yo) conjugation is camino; IOW, it also means “I walk”. I was born in the city of Amarillo Texas which I now (mostly) know how to pronounce correctly and that it is the masculine singular adjective ‘yellow’. Interesting how Spanish has been all around me.

But that’s not what this post is about. As I’ve mentioned I’ve gone off now on several digressions from my original project and subject of this blog – that is a virtual trek along the Camino de Santiago, decoding restaurant menus along the way so I can produce a food specific translation tool. I haven’t dropped that project and from time to time, given I’m still putting in miles on my treadmill which I convert to distance along the Camino route I do check what restaurants I “encounter”, that is via Google maps and StreetViews and their ratings and most importantly user submitted photos. I’ve seen thousands of typical mom-and-pop Spanish dishes but with the exception of a Spain oriented restaurant in Columbus Ohio I have yet to actually taste any comida español.

What I have been doing, after getting a new computer to use in my programming projects, is going back through 30,000 old digital photos and selecting those that either are visually interesting or interesting as reminders of my travels. So, in the absence of any other posts getting created, I thought I could just try adding a few of these photos. I’ve had a fondness for photos, otherwise fairly boring, of roads or, better, trails I do manage to walk. So I figured I’d post all my photos of trails (many more interesting than much of the Camino) and when I run out of those then some roads.

So I’ll start with this one:

Note: I still haven’t quite figured out how WordPress resizes photos so I have much higher resolution photos than I’m posting and I’ll have to figure out the trick to getting better quality.

I picked this shot because it fits my title – the footpath bifurcates with a more obvious trails and a lesser one. Naturally I hiked the lesser one (this was about four years ago).

The location is the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, USA. I camped there for about a week, often overrun by bison who decided the fresh spring grass in my campsite was what they wanted to eat. So I sometimes retreated to my car as a thin nylon tent is not much to stop a bison. This park has its name from the fact that President Teddy Roosevelt, as a young man, had various physical weaknesses and he chose to go to North Dakota (not then a National Park) and try his hand at ranching. Despite definitely being a “dude” from a rich East Coast family, tough and later rough-rider Teddy eventually impressed the locals with his tenacity and energy. So when the land was transferred to the US Park Service naturally it was named after him.

Now the area of the park is interesting because it appears almost out of nowhere in the middle of very flat plains of western North Dakota. While, at the bottom (where that trail is, the first photo), it can appear to be mountainous but it is actually canyons created by the Little Missouri River, which eventually flows into the Missouri River which is the border of my home state, about 10 miles away. So here’s a sample of the larger area from the top of the canyons:

Note: This photo still looks horribly fuzzy to me despite having 1920 pixel wide resolution – what is WordPress doing?

Since this is spring it’s quite green at this time of year but this is mostly prairie with some cedar trees. It was consider fairly inhospitable to any life and was known as “badlands”. But now there is actually a Badlands National Park in South Dakota, which I visited on the way to TRNP and it looks rather different.

So this is my first “camino” post with what looks like disappointing photos (in WordPress edit mode) and hopefully these images will look better in the finished post. Otherwise I’m clueless, now, how to get decent photos that I have (from a Nikon, not a cell phone) into posts.

I won’t do that many of these so it’s not just filler until I get back to Spain restaurant menus but I do enjoy (me gusta caminar) and I have some photos to prove it.

p.s. Since I mentioned bison (incorrectly called ‘buffalo’) I suppose I should include a picture of one of those sitting in my campsite near my fire pit.

retreat-1 026(16-9)

This is a real wild (and very large) animal. I was amused by signs warning tourists not to bother the wildlife, but there was no sign explaining what to do if the wildlife was bothering us!

Something different

One problem with a virtual trek is that I don’t get an chance to take my own photos. I can’t post photos of other people so I can only talk about my “trek”. So photos to follow, but a little preface (scroll down if you’re impatient for the good stuff).

Well, actually I do go places. And I take photos. I very much enjoy the posts of loyal readers with fantastic photos, places I’d love to see, but at least I can experience through other people’s postings. So here’s a few to return the favor.

So, I recently got a new computer and I really wanted a new and fresh set of photos for my screen saver on my new large display. So I dug into my archive of over 40,000 photos to pick a few of the best. It was an adventure to look back over almost 20 years and a variety of digital cameras.

And while Spain, my current interest, is not much like Texas, there is some resemblance. When I first moved to Nebraska from the San Francisco Bay Area (Los Altos to be specific) I was really depressed. Withing an hour of my old house I could find, even on foot, beautiful country. Within a few more hours I could either be cross-country skiing or sipping wine in Napa or riding my bike along the Pacific Coast. In contrast even 6-8 hours of driving from Omaha it’s still just cornfields. So I went crazy, also given it is winter in Nebraska, and I threw my backpacking gear in the car and headed south. Three days later I found myself in Big Bend National Park in Texas. Now I get to say anything I want about Texas because I was born there in a city called Amarillo, needless to say nowhere near the correct Spanish pronunciation of the adjective, ‘yellow’. Texas is a huge state, probably bigger than Spain, so I’d never been to Big Bend and it was a thrill to visit. Later I convinced my wife that visiting some place where I’d been sleeping in a tent on the ground was still a fun vacation.

As many of my loyal Readers are not from the USA, you might still know that our insane president (pretender) wants to build a wall along the USA and Mexico border. Actually there is a “barrier” on most of the border except Texas. Folks in Texas hate “imminent domain” so even putting up fences has run into local opposition. But the real “barrier” is nature, fierce, but beautiful.

But far more important a big chunk of the US/Mexican border is a fantastically beautiful place, either the National Park  or the Texas State Park. Twice I’ve visited this area and the second time I had a digital camera so here are so photos to give you feel for this beautiful place AND how impossible the terrain is for any sort of hordes crossing the border. I’m not sure I’ve seen any border that is LESS possible for easy crossing. And it would be horrible to spoil the beauty of this area with an utterly useless Wall just to make MAGAs in Michigan (who’ve never been anywhere near the border) happy.

So here are my photos, please ENJOY this beautiful place. And for once I can contribute something to see.

Ick. There is something I don’t understand about posting photos. These photos look like a blurry mess, but not what I have in my files (these are originally 15Mpixel files from a Nikon). I’m trying various things to make them look like I see them, not sure what WordPress needs.

Here are a couple of scenic vistas in the general vicinity of the border:

Actually this isn’t quite near the border, it’s the Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park but that’s where I was for this fantastic sunrise (it is about 5AM and a long exposure). Chisos Basis is the only accommodation in the park and is surrounded by mountains on all sides. The air is incredibly clear, and, of course dry (it is desert) so sunrises and sunsets are fantastic.

Do I mention you can see the sky here. My photos don’t even come close to the experience you can have, standing in the desert and seeing sky everywhere.

But now we come to the border.

From the US side this is looking north, in Texas State Park, with the Rio Grande behind us.

(Note: these photos look crummy to me, but they’re not all blurry like I see them as I make this post. I guess I don’t understand how to incorporate good photos in WordPress – click on the photo for a better one, but still much lower resolution than my original).

You can just barely see the river here, but this is a hint of surrounding country.

And here it is = the border, the Rio Grande – you can see the streams of immigrants flooding across. They come well equipped with climbing gear.

Again does that look like the kind of river you’re going to see a migrant caravan of women and children rushing across? Go luck kids.

A few miles down the river, still rough country – great sightseeing on the highway on the US side, pretty rough country with miles of desert on the Mexican side.

Here the Rio Grande might be easy to cross, but

here, not some much. This is the St Elena Gorge, as awesome cleft with steep cliffs on both sides of the border. When I first went to Big Bend my parents, who were “snowbirds” (people in cold climates with RVs who head to warmer climes near the border) warned my about Mexicans stealing my car. When I saw this gorge my reaction was – GOOD LUCK. A huge expanse of fierce desert to get to this gorge and then technical rock climbing to get to the US side. Hey, anyone intrepid enough to make that journey can steal my car! Needless to say there were no car thieves and anyone except USA tourists anywhere near this spot.

Maybe this crossing is lot easier, but still seriously demanding of outdoor skills.

And in case these barriers are not discouraging here’s a few other things you would face.

 

Amazing, this guy, about the size of my hand was just sauntering across the highway. Supposedly they’re fairly gentle but I wouldn’t want to put that idea to the test.

And, just more fun

These are called “horse crippler” cactus, and for good reason. Anyone daring this part of the world needs serious boots (and a good eye not to step on these).

A few times in my life I just zipped through the southwestern deserts of the USA but when I finally visited, slowly, on foot, these areas I was stunned at their beauty, something you have to see close up and in sync with nature.

The idea of putting a 10m high wall across this country, despite its stupidity for all the other reasons, is a criminal offense against the sanctity of nature. Spain has its beautiful spots, which I still hope to see, but the USA has fantastic spots as well.

Now, these photos are yucky, so I’m going to see if I can make them look better, more like I see them (I do have a rather good Nikon camera to shoot this stuff, not some two-bit cellphone camera).

Lost a post

This is primarily a note to myself to punctuate the flow of this blog to reflect some history.

I’m disappointed that I managed to delete a post I had mostly composed. Sometimes, and usually for more difficult posts, I work offline in MSWord to compose my posts. The way WordPress works isn’t that helpful for posts that take a while to compose or when I need to do more research for the subject of the post. And in the case of my lost post I was doing a lot of background research.

Previously I’d complained (in other contexts) about losing posts or especially comments in WordPress. Since the text editor running in a browser can’t access the local file system no temporary saves can be made (for posts, but not comments, WordPress does some saves to its cloud). I’ve lost enough that way to have adopted working offline (which can do temp saves) but even that is subject to human error.

So, what the post was about was restaurants in Astorga (surprised to find so many) and a local dish that is quite popular and featured by many of those restaurants, cocina maragato. I had done a lot of research on all this which was contained in the incomplete post I lost (also the menu translations that were background source information for the post). So you can go look at Astorga yourself (via Google Maps) and start with this link for cocina maragato.

Then, poof, in too much of a hurry I deleted the entire post AND the multiple menus I’d extracted and analyzed. What happened was that in attempting to add a new menu strange stuff showed up when I pasted the content from the website into MSWord. So I thought I was reversing that paste but instead deleted all the text in the file. Later in the evening while doing shutdown of my computer I got the notification from MSWord whether I wanted to save or not and, stupidly, just said yes without checking what changes it was trying to save. Poof, now I have an entirely empty file that previously had been many pages long.

This was quite discouraging to lose hours of work so I’m doing this notification post to kind of purge my despair and thus get back to work again on menus. And then make some new real posts.

 

Blog note

After consolidating terms from numerous menus, plus the recent post about restaurant terms, I substantially updated the page under the tab RESTAURANT PHRASES. The main change was the addition of a list of phrases which I’ll include here for convenience. Enjoy!

 

In this list the notation {x|y} means this word occurs with either x or y in this position, usually this is gender in adjectives, so {a|o}. [x] means optional, most often [s].

a elegir to choose [from]
a tu elección at your choice
acompañad{a|o}[s] accompanied
al centro in the center (of table, i.e. for sharing)
al estilo X in the style of X
al gusto to taste (doneness), i.e. cooked to order
al peso by weight
bebida[s] drinks
carta the a la carte menu
casa literally house, from this restaurant
caser{a|o} homemade
combinados combinations
degustación tasting/taste (often a separate menu)
del día of the day
diario daily (available item or open)
elaboración preparation
eliges tú los ingredientes you choose the ingredients
en temporada in season
entrantes starters (aka appetizers)
especialidad specialties
horario hours (as in when it is open)
incluid{a|o}[s] included
ingredientes ingredients
mesa table (different from tabla)
para acabar to finish (after main part of meal)
para comer to eat (main part of menu)
para compartir to share
para picar to nibble on (aka snacks or appetizers)
por encargo on request
postres desserts
precio[s] price
primeros [platos] (primer) first course
segundos [platos] second course
selección/seleccionado selection/selected
servido [con] served [with]
surtido assortment
tabla board/plank or platter (usually an assortment, often of ham)
unidad unit (abbreviation uds)
vari{e|a}d{a|o}[s] assorted, varied, variety

Too many menus, too little time

I’m only about five miles away from León (on my virtual trek, previously mentioned) where I’m bound to find a lot of online restaurant menus so I’ve been rushing to finish my list from the city of Palenica. I can work on the menus in bits and pieces, extracting and formatting the material into my source files and then analyzing the entries, doing lookups and searches on terms that machine translations handled badly. This isn’t easy and beyond mere mechanical, sometimes, but I can pick it up and put it down, thus squeezing this work into crooks and crannies of my day.

But the real work, actually generating a corpus and then, even more, creating the software to collate all this and actually create a Spain food translator that is far better than the extant machine translations requires a really concentrated effort and so I’ve essentially done none of this. I have to remember what it was like to work hard all day long on this kind of task, day after day, as I did when I was in a real job of software architect. But I find I can never get around to this for a “fun” project.

In between is writing these posts. I can’t do that in bits and pieces either. While a post is a shorter task I still require some concentration and focus, plus usually even more research. But that’s the good part. My quick cursory analysis of menus is sufficient to find specific translation issues for posts and thus, wanting to get it right in the posts, the need for more careful research and conclusions. And even though this may only be a few hours it’s hard to get that hunk of uninterrupted time. So my posts have really been infrequent.

I write the posts as part of a discipline to do this work more carefully. Knowing someone might notice my mistakes and then (and I’d love it if they did) comment as to my mistakes forces me to be more careful. Plus, sometimes, I try to tell more story than just the translations and that even enriches my data collection more.

So posts are great to do (and hopefully of some interest to you, Dear Reader) but it’s hard to get them done.

I have material for at least six posts about the menus from Palencia that I’ve studied. I really hope I can apply myself and get these posts done before I start digging in León menus.

So here are some restaurants you might find interesting. There were 159 restaurants in my starting list but I only looked at the ones with real websites (the Facebook sites are useless to my purpose and frankly, IMHO, worthless to a potential customer). Many of the websites then have little information and especially lack menus. Then often the menus are in two formats I just barely can use: 1) just images (i.e. no text to extract from browser so have to manually transcribe, hard to do accurately) or, 2) PDF’s. While I can usually (not always) get text from the PDF’s it: a) takes a lot of manual post-processing to organize, and, b) then it’s not easy to get Google translations (I have to build my own temporary webpage from the extracted and processed PDF information to let Google chomp on it), and, c) using Microsoft’s translation within MSWord is both a bit clumsier and overall somewhat inferior to Google (although in some cases it is better as well).

So my criteria for looking at restaurants in the following list has little to do with any sense of their quality or interesting cuisine. BUT, that said, usually I’ve found what appear to be the better restaurants often also have the better websites. I encourage them (not that any of them will be listening) to put more work in it. Perhaps for local clientele websites are not very important but for tourists I believe they’re beginning to be critical. I have another post about how I was persuaded to recently visit, even going out of my way, a particular restaurant in Ohio solely on the grounds of its website, although later learning it was also “rated” as one of the best in Columbus. And while pretty pictures of the food and glowing descriptions are nice online menus are far more important, again IMHO, for “selling” your restaurant to new customers.

So here’s the list I’ve processed, hopefully with stories to come when I can find the time for posts.

Bar Comedor El Garaje http://barelgaraje.es
Bar El Cobre https://barelcobrepalencia.es/
Casa Pepe’s http://casapepes.es/
Dominos (just wanted to compare to both US menus and local restaurants but some new vocabulary did appear) https://www.dominospizza.es/carta-de-pizzas
El Majuelo http://www.elmajuelopalencia.es
El Rincon de Istambul (interesting since they focus on Turkish food and so had non-Spanish items I had to look up) http://rincondeistambul.es
Gastrobar Donde Dani http://gastrobardondedani.es
Habana Cafeteria (interesting that a cafeteria has different selection which revealed some new terms) https://habanacafeteria.com
La Barra de Villoldo https://labarradevilloldo.com
Ponte Vecchio (interesting since they focus on Italian food and so had non-Spanish items I had to look up) http://www.pontevecchio.es
Restaurante – Cerveceria Las Hurdes http://cervecerialashurdes.com
Restaurante Asador Palencia La Encina http://www.asadorlaencina.com/es/palencia/
Restaurante El Brezo http://www.elbrezo.com
Restaurante La Cantara https://restaurantelacantara.com
Restaurante La Traserilla http://www.latraserilla.es/
Restaurante-Bar Mano http://barmaño.es
Restaurante-Cervecería Moesia https://moesia.es/

 

para picar and other restaurant phrases

Despite my lack of posts I have been continuing to study menus from restaurants in Spain, at the moment from a large list of restaurants in the city of Palencia. In that work I’ve thought of probably half a dozen posts I’d like to write. But posts are harder than study. I need concentrated time without interruptions and real focus. Study is mostly mechanical and I can do bits and pieces at a time, easily stopping and restarting later. I don’t know about you but I have to finish what I start, in one sitting, when it comes to posts. Of course 😉 if I did shorter posts maybe I wouldn’t have this problem. But, alas, I accumulate so much material it’s hard to neglect it all.

But there is a potentially relatively brief topic about some phrases one finds on many menus. The phrases are simple, but the literal translation of various machine translations aren’t very helpful. So let’s start with this one.

A menu was basically divided into three sections with these phrases (with Google translations):

para picar algo to chop something
para comer to eat
para acabar to finish

I doubt I’ll be doing any chopping while dining in a restaurant. Just para picar is more common than including the algo part, so what does this mean? para is just a preposition meaning ‘for’ or somewhat more helpful in this context ‘in order to’. picar has a host of meanings: to chop, mince, grind, cut, crush {to divide into pieces}; to sting, bite {by an animal}; to peck at {birds}; to break up (big pieces), chip (small pieces) {mining}; to punch; to needle {colloquial) to antagonize}; to spur on {horse racing}; to goad, prod {bullfighting}; to play staccato {music}; to rot, corrode, rust; to key in {computing} to eat, nibble on {(colloquial) to snack on}

Now we’re not bullfighting or mining or horse racing, so probably the sense related to eating best applies. While ‘to nibble on’ is the obvious dictionary definition to use the sense for this ‘to snack on’ probably fits best.

That then makes the following section, para comer (to eat) make more sense. After nibbling some snacks we’re ready for some serious eating. And para acabar precedes desserts, coffees and after-dinner drinks so that has an easy fit.

So let’s look at a few others which do translate reasonably well via machine literal translation:

a elegir to choose
para compartir to share
por encargo on request
a tu elección at your choice
eliges tú los ingredientes you choose the ingredients

Despite both a elegir and a tu elección having ‘choose’ or ‘choice’ they seem to have quite different purposes in menus. a elegir usually precedes a list where one may choose one item whereas a tu elección seems to allow one to “customize” an item.

And here are a few more

al peso
casero

al peso usually is in the pricing section, i.e. one can order an amount (by weight) of something and then the price will be determined by that weight. casero or casera (if preceding a feminine noun) is quite common and best translates as ‘homemade’ although often the mechanical translations just say ‘home’ or ‘house’ (for those translations that “claim” context sensitivity, not word-by-word literal) but of course that is the word that is the stem of this, casa. While ‘homemade’ clearly means made in this establishment it doesn’t necessarily mean ‘made from scratch’, or, IOW, it may just be assembled from purchased elements.

And, even though this is another post, some menus like to use brand names as the simple label of the item, especially at one establishment for desserts. So I learned MAGNUM MOMENTS is not some strange loanwords in Spanish, but just a European brand of ice cream in a particular portion and COPA BRASIL or DELISS LATTE are the names of packaged ice cream treats. Literal translation (or no translation at all as Google stumbled on these) isn’t going to help you much in picking one.

There are other phrases I’ve encountered but these where just in a few of the menus from a couple of restaurants. Someday I’ll have to complete a full list.