Afonso Xavier Canosa Rodriguez

On philology, potatoes and construction.
Well, this is just my first approach to blog-writing. I want it to be the way to keep in touch with colleagues and friends.

info at canosarodriguez dotnet

From forest to soil, on seeds
The year started going to the forest to cut trees that had fallen or were damaged by windy storms. The heating system at home is now more dependent on biomass than electricity.

We had several rainy weeks in a row by the time we use to start potato planting. Early potatoes will come later this year. I planted the last potatoes three weeks ago, using the same old tractor from previous years with a planting machine that requires only one person to plant, the driver.

Each year we use different certified seeds, sometimes coming from far away lands in different countries. Each certified tuber is inspected and processed to make for most often two or three new seeds, the potato being cut in smaller pieces, each one bearing at least two eyes. From these eyes, sprouts will emerge and the plant will grow, taking its energy from the seed. Tubers have a natural protection against microorganisms living in the soil, their peel. However, when we cut a potato to make two or three new seeds, we leave half or most of the surface unprotected, making the seed vulnerable to disease.

Wood ashes, on the other hand, bear no microorganisms at all, as a result of the high temperatures of combustion. So, before planting, seeds are covered with wood ashes that, due to the cut being wet, adhere to its surface, creating a new protective layer that keeps the seed away from open direct contact with the soil.
Subject: potatoes - Published 08-05-2017 22:41
Permanent link to this article
It rained too often for the early season this year, the soil was too wet to plant. Harvesting started later than usual. I took part. We used two harvesters, the conveyor belt of the first one broke in the first rows. Grass was too thick and kept the soil from moving onto the trail. So did the second. And the first, once repaired again. Finally, plowing the land dug the weeds under the soil. After that, one harvester was enough to do the job. A crop of medium sized healthy tubers is a good end for a more difficult than usual start.
Subject: potatoes - Published 12-09-2016 22:15
Permanent link to this article
The summer ended and autumn came while working in the refurbishment of a shop in a world heritage city.
Subject: construction - Published 26-10-2015 19:58
Permanent link to this article
Flowered plants

Some new potatoes, the ones planted earlier, have been already harvested (I came back in time). As for the late season, most of the plants have flowered. Their leaves slightly wet yesterday, early in the morning. It drizzled the night before, softly, for a while, as mist. So did yesterday, once more. Enough to refresh the surface, still too superficial to reach the root.
Subject: potatoes - Published 20-07-2015 18:16
Permanent link to this article
Ice on the river

Once solid soil to step on, ice melts again.
Winter is gone, in the river the water runs.
Subject: philology - Published 30-03-2015 12:56
Permanent link to this article
How long is a league?

We are talking about length, of course. Though, even after disambiguation, the answer may change depending on our definition. If we take metres to be the standard unit of length, “a unit of length equal to X metres” could be an acceptable definition. So easy, isn't it? Now we only have to answer the question, how many metres are there in a league?

Here is where we could get lost trying to be more precise again. Conversion values change from one place to another since the early periods of history. Furthermore, we would first need to use standard units other than metres, such as stades and feet, then convert to metres again.

So, here we are, tracking Mendes Pinto with distances given in leagues. The issue is that, after working with a huge bibliography, I haven't found a definitive explanation on how the values were calculated if any values were given at all. The most secure point I got is that of a league being equal to 17.5 intervals of a degree.1 Having this as a given value, I approached the issue as follows:

  • Mendes Pinto reports measures for distance and position being taken after the sun.

  • Now, what Fernão Mendes Pinto really measures is an angle of the Earth's circumference, taking relative positions on its surface with the sun as a point of reference.

  • The value of the sphere is well known for this period (Pedro Nunes, Sacrobosco), as nowadays, it has 360 degrees.

  • Now, FMP is giving distances proportional to 360/17.5. FMP doesn't need to know how long planet Earth is on the meridian, he just measures parts of it and calls a unit of length in his path a league. This universal unit would be finally transferable to whatever the local common unit of length, be it stades, feet, and so on.

  • Since we want to know the value nowadays, we don't need to solve how many stades or feet a league has either. It is enough to know the value of what FMP measures in metres, that is, the circumference of Earth, which is 40,000,000 m (round number, so a metre can also be exactly defined after the distance between the poles and the equator).2

  • Now, the maths. 40,000,000 m % 360° = 111,111.1 m, that we further divide 111,111.1 % 17.5 = 6,349 m (6,350 m for the length of Earth's circumference being equal to 40,007,863 m.)

Therefore, following this approach, a league is 6.349 km.

Let's check it! According to FMP, distance from Nanjing to Beijing is 180 leagues. So 180 leagues x 6.349 km = 1,142.82 km. Actual distance, round number, 1,150 km!3

More examples needed to actually bring evidence. Close enough to be on the right track!

(1) Albuquerque, L. (1987). As navegações e a sua projecção na ciência e na cultura. Lisboa: Gradiva. P. 49. ^

(2) Wikipedia. Sub voce Earth. ^

(3) Alves, J. (ed.) (2010). Fernão Mendes Pinto and the Pegrinação. Lisbon: Fundação Oriente. (Notes by M. Ollé, Vol. III, p. 126) ^

Subject: philology - Published 29-12-2014 10:47
Permanent link to this article
More on Travels

Last week I had the privilege to participate in a colloquium again. The topic was place names identification in Mendes Pinto's travels.

This is a synopsis:

"We present here our current work on a positivist analysis of place names. It aims to be valuable for either a literary reading or a more strict historical and geographical interpretation of Pinto's work. We sketch three methods to trace a place name.

1) Through phonetic analysis, does a given place name match a geographical entity in an Asian language?

2) By examining context, do we find historical, ethnographic, topographic, architectural, any descriptive features to relate the place name to a particular geographical area?

3) Given a point of reference and a vector of displacement, is it possible to solve the place name through cartography? "

A pdf file with slides is available here.

Subject: philology - Published 24-11-2014 13:49
Permanent link to this article

Many miles away, autumn may-trees,
bore sweeter berries, less lobulated leaves.
Subject: philology - Published 27-10-2014 14:06
Permanent link to this article
...and again
Only one more day. Yet one year more.
Subject: potatoes - Published 18-08-2014 12:00
Permanent link to this article
Harvesting again
Having been away for ten months, there is not much for me to do this time of the year. I just offer a helping hand to cut and pick up some logs from trees the wind brought down and spend two more days harvesting potatoes on two small pieces of land.
Subject: potatoes - Published 28-07-2014 17:27
Permanent link to this article
Modular building
Two days only, as a visitor, to see the final building process of a modular house still indoors, another day to visit a house yet to be finished, though already installed on the building site.
Subject: construction - Published 28-07-2014 16:37
Permanent link to this article
Is human language a system made of an infinite number of expressions? (and II)
Allowing all possible combinations for the whole English vocabulary, using one of the longest sentences ever registered in this language, was initially solved to infinity. As these were the expected results, being urged to write my presentation, I sent a draft to Miro Moman who kindly and quickly pointed out that my last operation was rather 1.63585694x1023086. This is a very huge number indeed (compare with the upper bound of the physical universe, 1x10113 m3), though still finite. All right again, who cares about a number which is bigger than the volume of the physical universe? Isn't that infinite enough?

Well, it is all right not to care that much. As I told you when this blog started six years ago, when we were only 6 billion people in this planet, in this section I deal with subjects that could be of interest for four or five people in the whole of humanity at present time. We are more than 7 billion now, the number could have slightly increased... though only by one unit the most if we keep the proportion we had six years ago.

Yet, the issue is, 1.63585694x1023086 stands for the result of applying maxima that over-represent the combinatory potential of any human language. That is, a more approximate value will always be smaller if we only apply syntactical rules! An easy example, this unrestricted combinatory would allow the same word to be repeated up to 4391 times and yet would consider the resulting string a sentence.

Let's go small to try to understand better. Let's take the first branch of the Mabinogi from our corpus: 1605 word-types, very small lexicon, the longest sentence has 64 words (this well represents a high value for sentence length). If we allow all possible combinations, that is, the same word to appear in any position of the sentence, we get 160564 = 4.5x10189, still bigger than the volume of the universe! However, you will soon notice that with such a small lexicon the number of grammatical sentences (not to tell you if we add semantics) must be finite and for sure much smaller!

You can tell me, what about recursion, and adding a loop that infinitely embeds a sentence within a sentence (using a complementizer in English, for instance)? ... all right, go on, you can move towards infinity as much as you want, and indeed create the longest sentence ever... though only when you reach an end (a sentence has to be complete to be a sentence) you will have a sentence unit, a single one. More important, at that point, even if you got a result bigger than 1.63585694x1023086, it would be finite again.

So, sentences are more similar to the lexicon than I previously thought. As far as I understand, the set of sentences in any human language is finite, boundless as the vocabulary of a language, and very huge, though much smaller than the maxima given above. Following the more manageable example for the Mabinogi corpus, using it as a rough extrapolation, it would be a matter of adding rules to come down to our solar system and begin to get a number at least smaller than the volume of our physical universe.
Subject: philology - Published 05-05-2014 15:45
Permanent link to this article
© by Abertal