American in Spain

URLs and Green Beans

August 3, 2010

Green BeansIn general, for just about any academic topic you want to know more about, you can find information on the internet to satisfy your curiosity. Luddites complain that "We know less these days because we can forget things and look them back up with such ease!", but I think that's a load of bollocks. Having more knowledge at our fingertips means we can learn more, and, even more important, we can recheck our current knowledge more often to keep it accurate.

Several times a day I find myself in a situation in which my understanding of a subject is unclear, so I look it up on the internet to clarify my knowledge. Over the past week, however, I have had the same rare experience twice: that the all-knowing internet was unable to clarify my foggy understanding.

What is the difference between a URI and a URL?

I already knew that they stood for Universal Resource Identifier and Universal Resource Locator respectively, and that it was uncool (the technical term is deprecated) to use URL these days, and that all the cool kids now use URI. I knew that any URL is also a URI, but that a URI isn't necessarily a URL, and that you almost never come across a URI that's not a URL, so that, in practice, the terms are pretty interchangeable. That's about it. Clear as mud, right?

Well, after reading about five different articles on the subject, I found myself with no new information. It's just a stupid technical nomenclature snafu that doesn't get any clearer.

What is the English word for the Spanish food called vainas or judí­as?

Normally when you're dealing with something scientific, particularly a species, the best way to translate the word is to go to Wikipedia, look it up in one language, and then choose to switch the article language. It works almost every time. Unfortunately there are many, many, many varieties of bean all classified as Phaseolus vulgaris.

I really wanted there to just be some better word than "green bean" for what I eat in Spain under the name vainas. They're similar, but clearly different. What I call a green bean in the US is on the left, and what I call a vaina or judí­a in Spanish is on the right:

green beanvainas

The green bean is more round, and the vaina is much more flat. But it turns out there really is no other word in English other than "green bean", but there are another dozen or so words for it in Spanish. Go figure.

20-20 Hindsight

I had most of this post already formulated in my mind when I read this article about Hindsight Bias on my new favorite psychology blog, You're Not So Smart. I'm pretty sure that I really did know all this stuff before I looked it up, but it's very possible that my brain is tricking itself into not looking like such an idiot. Who knows...