Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hits the Spot!

I am absolutely not going to this dinner posted below ($75 person, yeah, uh huh), but it looks absolutely delicious to me. A Hawaiian/Creole fusion. Yum, yum. I got this because I am on a jazz performances email listing in Hawaii (I've only been to one) and one of Oahu's most famous trumpeters, DeShannon Higa, is playing with crew at this event. But I looooove the menu.

I think I would go with the...

Sweet potato gumbo
Spicy ahi poke stack (chunks of raw tuna (ahi; coincidentally the same word in Japanese and Hawaiian, actually coincidentally); it's the thing in the picture)
Caesar salad
Shrimp, Andouille, and Hawaiian Snapper Etoufee
Hawaiian-style Beignets (these are more commonly called malasadas and are indeed similar to beignets, except they are Portuguese descended; Portugal was the major non-Asian-Pacific people who came to work the plantations, so there's some lingering cultural influence).

Or maybe I'm having Louisiana food withdrawal.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Headed Down Under, not Down South

Well, good news and bad news. On the bad news front, I was in a "sound like Elvis" karaoke contest. My version of Teddy bear was good enough to get me to round 2, but apparently my Can't Help Falling in Love with You was insufficient to make round 3. Sigh. No Graceland for me!

In other news, I submitted an abstract to present some of the work on Korean apologies at the International Conference of Pragmatics, or some similar title, and heard this morning that I and co-author were accepted to give a presentation. Therefore, if I can scrounge up the money, I am now headed to Melbourne Australia for a week in July. Never been to Australia. I think Indonesia is a close as I've gotten. So that's very cool. Not quite as cool as Graceland, but van Diemen's Land* will have to do.

So if anyone knows super cheap hotels in Melbourne....

*ok, not really going to Tasmania, but I needed a land for the style of the sentence and it's close enough for us Yanks.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Textbook - Section 6


This is the final section of the textbook chapter. There's Further Readings and Homework and Discussion sections, but I doubt any of you are that serious.

From the Language Computer Back to the Language Human

This chapter has focused so far on how we as humans use computers to talk to each other and we’ve seen that the more we ask of computers the more like us they have to become. On an everyday basis, what this means for language engineers is that they often spend time reading all about humans and language. All the areas discussed in other chapters of this book, grammar, phonetics, psychology of language, society and language, etc., can be evidence for how a computer can be created to do what we do. However, researchers in these human-focused areas of language study have also been looking increasingly to computers for insight as well. Just as we might figure out how to create a computer by studying people, seeing how a computer does something can help us figure out how the person does it. There are two main components to this: Corpus Linguistics and computational linguistics, particularly computational modeling.

We’ve already run into corpora (corpora is the plural of corpus) in this chapter. A corpus, again, is a body of language data. Technically a corpus can be any size. Our one sentence text message was a corpus and we studied it to find patterns of language use in text messaging. A larger corpus filled with tens of thousands of text messages would allow for much larger questions to be asked, such as: how common are consonant-only abbreviations? How about the smileys? Are the text messages from women distinct from those of men? Is text messaging ever used to speak to someone of higher status, or is it only to people of same status and lower? Software tools can help us scan millions of messages, which would be infeasible to do by hand.

Large corpora have often revealed facts about our language that were not realized before. For instance, there have been claims that children never hear certain types of grammatical patterns, and so there is no way for a child to learn them. However, analysis of large databases of real language reveals just those grammatical patterns. Corpora can open up a world of language details that we’ve never had access to in the past. You can try out some basic analysis on one of the world’s largest corpora today if you wish, namely Google. Want to find out if two words ever occur together in speech? Enter them into Google and see.

Linguists are also using computational models more and more in their study of language use. One reason for this is imminently practical. The strict formalism we’ve been discussing in earlier sections requires a linguist to really find out if they know what they’re talking about. To put it another way, we might think we have a very clear idea of what a grammatical subject is. Then we try to tell an unthinking computer how to find the subject and discover there are a lot of details we forgot about. As another example, let’s say we have a hypothesis about speaking that involves 1) coming up with some sort of meaning to express, 2) putting that meaning into the right grammatical structure, and then 3) finding the words to fill out that structure. It may seem very clear to us as we sit in our armchairs thinking of it. But when you go to teach a computer that clear idea, you discover that your ideas on how grammar relates to words were fuzzy or that your notion of the meaning of verbs is incompatible with your notion of the meaning of sentences.

Beyond using the computer’s formalism to straighten our own thinking out, computational models can sometimes predict what humans would do in a similar situation. Language is an enormously complicated system and it is often difficult to see how tweaking one bit here will relate to the entire system. If a psychologically plausible model can be created for some small area of language use, we can run simulations of our linguistic psychology right on the computer.

This spiral of human to computer to human again is perhaps best seen with connectionist models of language. Connectionist models, also called neural networks, are computational models based upon some properties of the human brain. In these networks, neuron-like models become activated based upon the data they encounter and then “wire” together to learn the patterns of the data. Such models can of course be trained with language data and then make predictions about how humans would react to the same language. One example is the study of the effects of brain lesions on language comprehension and production. It is unethical to purposefully destroy part of a real person’s brain to see what effects damage to that part of the brain (called a brain lesion) would have on language. However, one can simulate brain lesions on neural networks without going to jail and therefore safely test hypotheses.

In all realms, we reveal who we are by what we do. One might also say that we reveal who we are by what we create. As we attempt to create more sophisticated tools to accomplish tasks that humans alone, as far as we know, can accomplish, we have to put more and more of ourselves into the tool. With computers, particularly in the realm of language, this is not just an abstract idea, but an accurate description of what is happening in language labs and industry offices all around the world. We study ourselves to understand computers and we study computers to understand ourselves.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Textbook - Section 5

We're almost there! Only one more section after this. Believe it or not, the whole chapter's only 6,000 words.

Anyway, here we finish up some of the issues to handle in getting machine translation to work, and then move into the next section, which introduces the very, very basics of natural language processing (of sorts) which is just the term for getting computers to be able to handle natural language, such as English.

And I just realized that FairyHedgeHog stated in the comments that I was suggesting that there's no Babel Fish. I had assumed she'd read my little section on Babel Fish when saying this, but I now realize that that section wasn't posted yet. But it is now about 3-4 paragraphs down. Off we go:


There are further problems with word-to-word translation: Many words in one language simply do not exist in another language. This might occur because a word’s meaning is nuanced and complex. Examples of this in English might be smarmy or punk’d. Translators enjoy making lists of such hard to translate words. An example from one recent such list is mamihlapinatapei, a word in Yagan. Apparently, it means something like, “implying a wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start.” That’s quite a complex idea, and it is not surprising that many languages of the world do not have a word for it. Other difficult to translate words seem fairly clear in meaning, there just happens not to be a single word for them in English. An example might be iktsuarpok in Inuit, which means “to go outside to check if anyone is coming.” Or perhaps cafuné in Brazilian Portuguese, meaning, “to tenderly run one’s fingers through someone’s hair.” Both of these words appear to be rather useful words and it might be nice if English had them. But it doesn’t.

In such cases, what we need is not a mapping from one dictionary to another, but simply someone to understand the meaning of the difficult word and tell us in English. However, this is asking a great deal indeed from a computer. The ideal computer translator needs to know not just the list of words in each language and how they correspond to one another but also the grammar of all languages we are interested in, the pragmatics of each society’s relationships, and the very meaning of what is being said. In fact, we are getting very close to asking the computer to be human, to know what we know about the world.

How to Get a Computer to Talk to Us

The reader who has just finished the section on how difficult translation is might be thinking, “but don’t we have some machine translation already?” Indeed, we do. Perhaps the best well-known is Babel Fish as found on Alta Vista and Yahoo!. Babel Fish is a free machine translation service offered on the Web, and it has an extremely tough task. The user can copy in any text she chooses into its screen in a series of languages, and ask for a translation to another language. It’s critical to hammer on the point that anything could be put into its text window. Therefore, to expect such a site to always do spectacularly is indeed like expecting it to be almost human, and it’s clearly not.

Typing a sentence into Yahoo! Babel Fish , translating it to another language, and then translating it back reveals this. If you take the English sentence the boy kicked the ball, translate it to Chinese and then translate it back, you get the boy played with the ball. This is similar in meaning but not the same, as the action of kicking has been lost. Going to Japanese and back gives us the boy kicked sphere. This is the right meaning, just never something an English speaker would say. However, Babel Fish completely jumps the shark when you go to Korean and back, returning the boy l where kicks hard public affairs.

Machine translation can do much better, however, if you give it a far simpler task. Poor Babel Fish has to handle anything anyone could ever say in its languages, like a human does. If you simplify the problem by only handling certain types of communication, the computer can become truly helpful. Examples might be: just focusing on scheduling meetings between people or just translating technical reports on aeronautics. Domain Analysis is the process of formally defining a precise problem to be concerned with. The idea is straightforward. You focus on a tiny part of the whole world, defining exact criteria for what is within the domain you will handle. If you do this, you have a shot at actually giving the computer much of the knowledge it will need to perform reliable translation.

Let’s say, for instance, that you want the computer to be able to handle language about bill payments. Bill payment is such a restricted domain that a team of linguists can teach the computer about how the world of bill payments works. Part of this process is providing the computer with an Ontology. In language engineering, an ontology is a formal structured list of the things that exist in that domain. In the domain of bill payment, that would include things such as bank accounts, bills, due dates, transaction dates, amounts, currency, and so on. The ontologist defines critical concepts in the domain, often called classes. These classes in turn will have various features with restrictions on those features. For instance, a credit card payment could be a class in the ontology with a feature such as the payment amount.
If we were to build an ontology of the Child Play domain, it would likely prevent many mis-translations, such as we saw in the English – Korean – English example above. Virtually no ontology of child play would be concerned with public affairs and so any ambiguities in words, which lead Yahoo! Babel Fish to wander into public affairs land, would be ruled out.

These formal statements concerning language are needed across the board to handle deep language translation – for word recognition, for language meaning, for grammar, etc. For instance, we discussed the need to distinguish subject from object when translating. Among other reasons, this was needed so that the verb could be made to agree with the subject (but often not the object) and so that one could re-order words depending on the language (the object is after the verb in English but before it in Japanese, German, or Korean.) How could you tell a computer how to find the subject in an English sentence?

One initial approach might revolve around defining noun phrases, and then telling the computer where in a sentence the subject noun phrase is located. First, look up each word in the sentence and find which words are nouns. Then, instruct the computer that nouns are often part of noun phrases. Let’s take the boy kicked the ball again as our example. If the computer looks up each word, they will find at least boy and ball are listed as nouns. Kick will be listed as well, as in he gave the ball a swift kick, but in this case, kick has the –ed ending marking it as a verb, not a noun. Next, the computer has a grammatical rule telling it that nouns often occur with determiners (articles) such as the and a. And so it pairs the boy and the ball into noun phrases. Finally, the computer has to decide which of these noun phrases to agree with. The computer’s programmer might put in a rule saying that the noun phrase before the verb in English is most likely to be the subject, while the noun phrase after the verb is most likely to be the object.

This particular rule would fail rather quickly, but the necessity of specifying precise patterns should be clear. The more restricted the domain that the computer must cope with the more superficial the computer’s idea of grammar and meaning can be. Contemporary computers are quite successful in dealing with human language in highly restricted domains. As the domain grows, however, to be more and more like the everyday world humans live in, the more human-like the computer becomes as well. Such a machine translator approximates being an android instead of a desktop computer. To talk to a computer, to really talk to it like we talk to each other, the computer might need to be a silicone version of ourselves. JAKE NOTE: I HAD AN ENTIRE SPEECH RECOGNITION SECTION HERE THAT I THOUGHT WOULD BE COOL, BUT SPACE IS ALMOST GONE, SO I’M KILLING IT. LET ME KNOW IF YOU WANT TO PUT IT BACK IN (WHICH MEANS TELL ME IF YOU WANT ME TO WRITE IT).

Merry Xmas

Hi all, I did The Twelve Days of Christmas in Hawaii on my karaoke site.

Number 1 day of christmas my tutu give to me, one mynah bird in one papaya tree, etc. My voice is non-functional right now due to a cold, but I hope that's okay on this tune, since it's mostly humorous. On the positive side, I can hit lower notes than normal.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Textbook - Section 4


As we continue by flying tour of language and computers, we move from talking to other people in the same language through computers to talking to people in different languages on computers, i.e., we are moving into machine translation. This is going to start getting increasingly tech-y, but it never gets hardcore at all. Anyway, here's the next bit. Unfortunately, there's a lot of formatting that's getting lost here. I've tried to put most of it back.

My Trusty Speech-o-Matic!

We’ve talked so far about how the language we use online can be a window into our own subconscious knowledge of our language and how the communicative abilities of the Internet have increased language opportunities. One of the greatest dreams for computers is that they would somehow allow us to communicate across languages. The dream version might be the supposed Universal Translator as seen in the Star Trek world, or it’s companion in a million other movies. Anyone in the universe walks up, speaks through whatever means their alien bodies allow, and magically the computer translator pops everything out as Mainstream American English. Brilliant! Could it ever be possible? How would it work?

Perhaps the best way to start looking at Machine Translation is by looking at what it is not. Translation is not substituting the words of one language for the words of another language. This may work for some sentences, but it quickly breaks down. Let’s take the English sentence Sylvia is going to the library and attempt to translate it into French. There are parallel words in French for most of this sentence. English to go is similar to French aller; English to is similar to French à; English the is similar to French la; and English library is similar to the French bibliotèque. So let’s take just substitute one word for another. Sylvia goes to the library becomes Sylvia va à la bibliotèque.

That turned out fairly well, but I’ve already fudged things a bit. You might have noticed I said that to go is similar to aller, but then I used va in the sentence. This is because, French, like English, has different verb forms based upon tense, aspect, and mood. JAKENOTE, DO THEY KNOW ALL OF THESE TERMS FROM EARLIER CHAPTERS? There are many parallels between French and English verb forms, but they do not always match. French verbs, for instance, mark whether the subject of the sentence is first person, second person, or third person right on the verb, while English does not by and large. Therefore, to translate any verb into French, we need to know what the subject is. Since this is not part of the English verb, we cannot read it from the word itself. Instead the machine translator must know what the subject is. This, in turn, requires a grammatical analysis of the sentence.

A similar problem occurs with translations between English and German. English generally follows a sentence pattern of subject-verb-object, while German follows a pattern of subject-object-verb, i.e., the verb goes in the middle for English sentences but at the end for German sentences. JAKE NOTE, A POINTER SOMEWHERE IN THIS PARAGRAPH TO YOUR TYPOLOGY CHAPTER SOUNDS APPROPRIATE. In such a case, even if there was a perfect one to one match between English words and German words, the translator again cannot simply substitute one word for another. It needs to know what the subject is, what the object is, and what the verb is in order to re-arrange things. In short, any non-trivial translation requires that the computer be able to grammatically analyze any sentence it encounters. Even this might seem simpler than it is. Most of the sentences that you have read in this chapter have never been written before, and never encountered by you, the reader. (Some of you may wish you never encounter sentences like this again.) These exact sentences will not be in any database of the English language. Instead, you the reader, and the computer translator, must know English grammar sufficiently to analyze sentences you’ve never heard.

Guess what? The problem gets worse. Let’s say we want to translate between English and either Japanese or Korean. Both of those languages express what are called honorifics right in their grammar and verb forms. Honorifics are sort of a grammatical form of politeness and their use depends upon a series of factors such as the status of the person being spoken to, the status of the person speaking, the intimacy of their relationship, and more. English deals with many of these same issues. We do not speak the same way when giving a talk at a funeral as we do while playing Guitar Hero III with a friend. Nor do we talk the same way to our lovers as we do to our company’s CEO -- if you want to keep your job. These social factors are expressed through the word choices we make, the elaborateness of the phrasing, and the assertiveness with which we speak. JAKE NOTE; AGAIN, CAN WE REFERENCE THE SOCIO CHAPTERS FOR THIS? Japanese and Korean use these methods to express social relationships as well, but they additionally code some of this in the exact verb endings used in a sentence. This implies that the computer cannot perform a true translation of Sylvia went to the library into Korean or Japanese without some pragmatic knowledge of each society – who is of high status, who is of low, and what their relationships are like. Such knowledge is, of course, nowhere in the sentence itself, but requires knowing the entire social context of the sentence.

Friday, December 19, 2008

More karaoke!

I did another tune! This time I'm pretending to be the old Bingle, Bing Crosby, singing Swinging on a Star. I have about his range naturally, so I always like singing tunes he made famous. Instead of an embed, here's the link:

As you can see from the link, I am part of Sing Snap, under the name pacatrue. (In fact, I think this link might take you to a list of everything I've done, which is a total of 2 songs. I'm thinking of doing a Christmas song weekand then an 80s nostalgia week, but I rarely have discipline to follow such things.)It seems good, but I don't have tons of experience. I went by an earlier link in my Google list and it seemed all too contemporary. I'm really not too good with the Jay-Z or the Kelly Clarkson. But Sing snap had older and newer stuff, though not really enough old skool r&B, meaning no Isley Brothers! no Kool and the Gang! but I'll live.

If anyone wants to join Sing Snap and have an 80s throw down, yell.

Textbook - Section 3


This is continuing in the textbook chapter. If you are actually reading this, please leave a comment (just one person is enough) so I can know whether to keep posting these.

This section is about people practicing heritage languages over the Internet. I'd particularly like to know if anyone thinks parts of this section could be offensive, since I touch on issues of cultural labeling, including such lovely issues as the FOB vs Banana war.

From Linguistic Change to Linguistic Preservation

While many are concerned with the potential for computers to alter language, computers are also used every day to preserve languages, both for an individual speaker and for communities. The Internet in particular provides opportunities for heritage language speakers or emigrants to connect to a language community that could be inaccessible otherwise. While the amount of use of the Internet with a heritage language will vary enormously from community to community, groups of people all around the world constantly use the Internet to connect to people they would not be able to speak with otherwise, and they do this across language boundaries. This chance to connect can be vital for some heritage speakers who would otherwise have difficulty developing their abilities in the heritage language.

Jin Sook Lee at the University of California – Santa Barbara recently profiled the experiences of two sisters, born in Korea but moved to the U.S. as children, as they used the Korean online social networking site Cyworld ( to maintain knowledge of Korean language and stay in touch with contemporary Korean culture. Due to the circumstances of each sister, there was a substantial difference in Korean language ability between the two. The older sister, Jendy, was far more comfortable speaking Korean and seeking out monolingual speakers of Korean as friends online, while the younger sister, Lizzy, largely only spoke Korean to her parents and otherwise used English. Lizzy’s Korean abilities appeared to be deteriorating over time as friends she saw during visits to Korea would tell her that her Korean had gotten worse since the last visit.

For both Jendy and Lizzy, the greatest benefit of participating in the online Cyworld was constant access to other Korean speakers. The older sister Jendy was able to increase the number of people she regularly spoke Korean with from 5-6 in California to 40, including some who only spoke Korean. Lizzy was far more uncertain about her language skills and almost entirely kept her social network confined to people she already knew in life, but even this conservative approach increased her circle of Korean-speaking friends from 2-3 to 15-20.

Several other features of Cyworld and the Internet generally also helped in Korean practice. Both sisters were frequently asked about Korean pop stars by other friends. Stories and gossip on this topic were readily available on Cyworld, providing the sort of content that could have been hard to get without the web-connection. Both sisters reported more freedom to make mistakes in language online without being overly embarrassed about it. The additional barrier of a social networking site itself seemed to decrease worry about mistakes, and the ability to lie about errors, making false claims of typos for instance, helped as well.

In the end, both Jendy and Lizzy reported increased vocabulary, syntactic knowledge, and cultural participation as a result of participating in Cyworld. As seems to always be the case, there were social drawbacks to being on Cyworld as well. Both Jendy and Lizzy were sometimes labeled as FOBs (for Fresh Off the Boat) by Korean-American peers in California for “Cy-ing”. Lizzy in particular seemed to be having trouble navigating the social pressures. On the one hand, she was a FOB for being in Cyworld. At the same time, she expressed a worry that without the Internet, she wouldn't know any Korean and would be labeled a twinkie (a snack cake which is yellow on the outside, white on the inside, expressing the notion that the person’s Asian physical appearance covered a non-Asian inside).

While much language maintenance occurs on a personal level, such as the story of Lizzy and Jendy, organizations frequently also get involved to teach or document a language via computer. Frequently, the use of computers is tangential to the language teaching. For instance, the Nausm Salish Language Revitalization Institute maintains a school for children to learn the Salish language as spoken on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. They maintain a web site,, to advertise the mission of the school, raise funds, and provide information about their programs. But the language teaching occurs at the school itself.

A far more extensive use of computers to maintain a language is represented by the efforts of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Members of the Choctaw Nation live in many different towns, sometimes in numbers far too small to pay for a dedicated Choctaw language teacher in every community. This is compounded by the small number of teachers capable of teaching Choctaw. Therefore, the government of the Choctaw Nation created an online Choctaw School offering classes over the computer. This allows a staff of under-10 to offer programs in 40 high schools, including three levels of the Choctaw Language completely online.

My Trusty Speech-o-Matic!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My first Karaoke!

Moonie will be so proud.

Several weeks ago I was sitting in a hotel restaurant working when I heard some karaoke coming from the hotel bar. I was dragged on to a karaoke stage by friends about 10 years ago, but otherwise I've been karaoke free during my time on earth. However, they were singing great classic tunes in the bar that night like Sinatra and Dean Martin, and it sounded like real fun. And so I've been working up the courage to try karaoke again. I haven't actually succeeded in that yet.

But. Tonight I found various sites where you can do online karaoke, and I've been singing ever since B went to bed. For a while I was attempting to be serious and passably good. Never really pulled that off. But then I realized I can be silly and stupid and that worked pretty well. And so with much ado, I now present to you my first ever solo karaoke in my life.

Elvis' Blue Christmas. There are some technical weird things about this process and there's some weird things as well about the singer, so I'm a bit off rhythmically until the second verse. I'm just off tonically after that. Anyone wants to have online karaoke duels in the future.... you are totally on.

Voice Blog

The voice assignment from McKoala and Robin S was to record some boring drivel like the phone book as if we are trying to singlehandledly take everyone who heard our voice to hell. OK, it was to read it sexy. Since I am nothing if not sexy, I've recorded a version.

Here it is as a wav file. Should open Media Player, iTunes or something.

Textbook - Section 2

This is a continuation of the thrilling textbook chapters on language and computers. This is my stunning linguistic analysis of texting. It may be best to read section 1 first. Oh, I should say that the standard in linguistics when you mention a word is to put it in italics, not put quotes around it. In a subject that deals with language, this happens every few sentences. So if I want to say that the word pig is a noun, I say: pig is a noun. Pig is the word that refers to pigs. Section 2 (by the way, there are footnotes that are not being copied across with this):

Example 1: omg u talk so diff in txt msgn!!!!! :)

The first “word” is omg, standing for “oh my god” in standard English, an exclamation of surprise. omg is what’s termed an Initialism, since it is composed of the initial letters of each word. Initialisms are quite common in text messaging, but of course they did not originate there at all. People have been calling the United States of America the USA for quite a long time. Perhaps, however, initialisms like omg are confined to more casual discourse, such as between friends or family. Surely, an initialism like omg would never be appropriate in academic discourse or a business environment? This does not seem to be true either. Academics actually love to name their conferences with Initialisms: The GALANA conference is the Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition in North American conference; the CUNY conference is the City University of New York conference. If someone were to form a 2010 Conference Against the Spread of Acronyms, most people would likely call it CASA 2010.

Corporate environments are not free of Initialisms either. I recently ran across a sign that read, “HMA CME FAC MTG RM 200,” which, as it turns out, stands for “Hawaii Medical Association Continuing Medical Education Facilities Accreditation Committee meeting, room 200.” Without knowledge of the abbreviations, of course, such a sign is meaningless, but if they are known, the first sign is far shorter than the second. The first appeared on a single sheet of paper; the latter would likely require a scroll of some sort.

Right there, we can see one reason why initialisms are so prevalent in text messaging: It saves time in entering the message. Full QWERT-style keyboards are becoming more common as of 2009, such as in Apple iPhones or certain PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), but most text messaging has been done on cell phones with fewer buttons than letters of the English alphabet. With both tiny keys on many devices and a requirement to press a button several times for a single letter, there is strong pressure to minimize the number of letters that are texted. What you see then in texting is that the idea of initialisms is by no means new to texting or the Internet, but the logistics of the current technology push people to use them to a greater degree. One can speculate that, as the ease of entering letters increases with new computer interfaces, the number of abbreviations would lessen as well.

Not all abbreviations in texting, however, are due to a desire to save time. Many people simply play with language when texting just as people play with language in speech. One might argue that initialisms like “lol” (laugh out loud) or “lmao” (laughing my ass off) once saved time in expressing amusement at something. However, is “ROTFLMYAO” (Rolling on the Floor Laughing My Ass Off) really a time saver? It’s not clear just how much funnier something must be to trigger rolling around on the floor and losing one’s ass as compared to just losing one’s ass. Instead, people are stretching the abbreviations to see what they can get away with. Of course to “get away with” an initialism like that, the person receiving the message must understand it. Many abbreviations are so common as to be understood by almost anyone with passing knowledge of texting or other Internet communication (such as lol). However, people also like to create special abbreviations that only their own friends or specific community can appreciate. This creates a sense of identity and shared experience with others as expressed through language modifications. JAKE NOTE: I AM ASSUMING THE SOCIO DISCUSSIONS HANDLED THIS; IT WOULD BE GOOD TO POINT THAT WAY SOMEHOW IF THEY DID.

An abbreviation can even be something of a political statement. On American political blogs, you can encounter the Initialisms “IOKIYAR” and “IOKIYAD”. Unless you participate in American political debates, these are meaningless, but to those in the know, they stand for “It’s OK If You Are Republican” and “It’s OK If You Are a Democrat.” They are used when some behavior that was condemned by a partisan when the other party did it is defended when the partisan’s own party engages in it. In short, it’s an accusation of hypocrisy. While each initialism is indeed shorter than the full Standard English phrase, the very existence of the initialism also makes a statement. It suggests that the other party acts hypocritically so often that we had to create a special term for it. Intialisms then both mark out who we are and who the Other is.

The next abbreviation in our text message example marks out a different piece of knowledge, phonetic knowledge. “u” is not created from “you” by chopping off the first two letters. After all, thousands of words include the letter “u”. Instead, the texter knows the letter “u” and the word “you” are identical phonetically. Each would be transcribed phonetically [ju] JAKE NOTE: CAN WE POINT THEM BACK TO THE PHONETICS CHAPTER, ASSUMING THIS WAS COVERED THERE? and so one can stand in for the other.

Another common feature of text messaging is the abbreviation of words by omitting the vowels, here represented by “txt msgn”. However, why does this work? It turns out that it is far easier to remove vowels and retain an ability to recognize the word than to drop out the consonants and recognize the word. In the latter case, “text messaging” would become “e eai”, which is utterly incomprehensible. This actually reveals some rather deep properties of language. Two recent studies have attempted to examine differences between how consonants and vowels are perceived by speakers. In these studies, artificial languages were created where the consonants expressed certain patterns or the vowels expressed the same patterns. The question was whether participants in the experiments could find those patterns. It turned out that when the task involved memorizing and recognizing words, participants only succeeded when the clues were on the consonants; however, when the task involved learning abstract rules about the artificial language, participants only succeeded when the clues were on vowels. There appears to be a special connection between consonants and recognizing words. This possibility is even expressed in the natural writing systems of Semitic languages, such as Arabic and Hebrew. In those languages, the word is designated by the consonants of the word, while the vowels indicate its grammatical role in the sentence. In sum, texters seem to unconsciously know the consonant-to-word connection without ever being told.

To sum up, a careful observation of Internet language can reveal much about human language. We’ve had to take a look at issues of identity construction, ease of language production, and even found tentative evidence for a special connection between consonants and words in our internal psychology. Indeed, what we’ve been engaged in is a very rudimentary form of a subfield of linguistics called Corpus Linguistics. Corpus is the Latin word for “body”, and a linguistic corpus is a body of language data that can be analyzed to discover patterns in how people use their language. In the end, the basic features of text messaging are as old as language; however, the existing tools, such as a cell phone’s keypad, pressure those normal linguistic behaviors in new directions.

From Linguistic Change to Linguistic Preservation

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Textbook - Section 1


Basically, the main thing I'm doing now is finishing up the textbook chapter. Since I don't seem to be posting to the blog, I thought I could post parts of the chapter. It's written for the Intro to Ling class and is intended to be "followable" by 18 and 19 year olds who in fact have no interest in language nor in attending class. In other words, I'm attempting to write it for a general population, which includes you guys too. The only real difference is that my chapter would be one of the very last chapters, so they've already read several chapters on various language issues. Due to this, you will periodically see in my text a JAKENOTE in all caps. JAKENOTES are where I ask the editor, Jake, if the students have really already encountered an idea in the text. I welcome any feedback about what's confusing, what's interesting, what's boring, and what's oddly worded.

Anyway, here you go:

Talking to Robots, Talking to Ourselves: Exploring Computers and Language

Usually, we think of technology as something that we as humans create. It’s an external tool we bring into existence to perform some task of our choosing. However, almost all break-through technologies also reveal a great deal about ourselves. Technologies become new ways to explore what it means to be human, even possibly changing what humans are as a result.
This idea has captured the imagination of storytellers ever since stories were told. The classic Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus is just one example of using a fantastic technological innovation to make a statement about being human. The brilliant inventor Daedalus builds a set of wings for himself and his son Icarus. When they take to the skies, Icarus flies too close to the sun, melting the wings, and sending himself to his death. Mary Shelley’s 19th century story of the creation of a monster by Dr. Frankenstein also makes the reader reflect on what humans will become if technology gives them the power to create life. However, never has the intersection of humanity and technology so fascinated us as it has since the invention of the computer. Computers after all are designed to solve the sorts of problems that only humans have been known to solve – advanced mathematics, novel data analysis, control of other tools, and more. Novels, television, music, painting, and films, have all contemplated what separates humans from computers. Can robots be alive? Could a computer ever be a person? Do we have the moral right to create a living computer? What exactly divides a human from a computer?

As has been discussed in previous chapters, it is commonly argued that nothing is so distinctively human as language JAKE NOTE: HAS ANYONE ACTUALLY SAID THIS?. It is this amazing ability to speak and be understood that separates us from animals more than anything else. If that is the case, it is certainly worthwhile to take a look at language on computers. We communicate using computers so routinely now that for many people under 40, it is hard to remember what it was like not to even be able to do so. We can learn a lot about ourselves and our language by studying Computer-Mediated Communication and this will be the first topic of this chapter. What we will discover, however is that computers are not transparent in this process. They change how we talk to each other. Indeed, the more we ask them to assist us in talking to each other, the more like us they have to become. We end up needing to talk to computers themselves. How this is possible will be our second main topic. Finally, we will look at how we can use computers to study our own language use. Multiple volumes could be written about every couple paragraphs of this chapter, so a list of Further Readings is provided at the end.

omg u talk so diff in txt msgn!!!!! :)

We communicate in many different ways using computers: email, text messaging, internet bulletin boards, blogs, and web pages, just to name a few. Text messaging in particular has exploded in popularity in the past few years and yet is still new enough to many that it’s either a mystery or, for some, something to be feared or resisted. In an article entitled “I h8 txt msgs: How texting is wrecking our language”, John Humphrys doesn’t mince words:

It is the relentless onward march of the texters, the SMS (Short Message Service) vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago.

They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped.

While getting quite this excited is probably uncommon, it is quite common to make fun of texting, sorry txtn, in various ways. To assess whether there’s any merit to the claim that text messaging is destroying the world, we first, as linguists, need to understand just what’s different about it. So let’s take the title of this section and take a real look at it.

Example 1: omg u talk so diff in txt msgn!!!!! :)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

One Semester of Spanish Love Song

Perhaps I appreciate this as a language learning journal editor, or maybe it's just funny.

is now ABD

I am now officially All But Dissertation. Woot.

This one actually means something as I get to stop taking classes from here on out. So now I just have to finish this semester and, um, write a dissertation. Yip!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hell Week

This week is going to be unbelievably nasty. I defend my dissertation proposal on Friday; I need to run one experiment; design another; write the textbook chapter; and finish editing every article and review in the journal, all by Saturday. So I won't be around much. The good news is that things will calm down dramatically in about 9 days. See you on the other side.

In other news, B is into volcanoes right now and I happened upon this awesome picture of Mt. Fuji along with cherry blossoms and a traditional tower of some sort. OK, only a fraction of it shows here. So click on the pic to see the whole thing.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Childhood education

Does anyone have any experience with either Montessori or Waldorf schools for early childhood? Any opinions? Pros and cons?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Textbook Outline

Below is my working outline for the intro to language textbook chapter I am supposed to writing. There's no possible way I can even pretend to cover all this. I wonder what I will cut when the time comes?

Talking to Robots: From People to Computers to People again

1. Talking to people using computers
a. omg, u talk diff n txt msgs
i. How the language of chat and messaging differs from other forms of the language
ii. Do YouTube comments reveal the impending destruction of our civilization, or not so much?
b. Using the internet to preserve language, heritage, and culture
i. At last, someone to talk to!
1. Maintaining Polish in Australia
2. Practicing heritage Korean in California
3. Learning Choctaw around the world
ii. Let no one forget
1. Digital archives for the scholar and for the community
c. I have no idea how to speak your language but I want to talk to you anyway using my trusty Speech-o-Matic!
i. History and prospects for machine translation
ii. Why translation isn't just replacing my word with your word
2. Talking to the Robot
a. How do I get a computer to understand me?
i. robot, do you understand the words that are coming outta my mouth?
1. Computer customer support: love it or hate it?
ii. So, is this a reduced relative clause or a matrix verb? Making a computer figure out the difference
iii. I know what you mean
iv. Wait, does a computer know what anything means?
3. Which one is the Robot? Me or C3PO?
a. Language bots
i. What a bot has to know to talk to you
ii. Using bots to learn languages
b. The Turing test and being human
c. Learning how we talk by making a computer talk
d. Or is it making a computer talk by learning how we talk?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Spam Musubi!!

Ello has been requesting a Hawaii recipe. I'm not sure this is exactly what she had in mind, but it doesn't get any more Hawaii local than spam musubi. This is what you buy near the cash register at 7-11 in Hawaii instead of a sausage biscuit or potato log. (Mmmm... potato logs. I can remember the Chevron in Mississippi on the corner of University and Lamar right now...) Musibi are actually one of B's favorite foods, though he does take the nori off, so I decided to attempt making my own. Let's see. You need:

2 cups uncooked rice
water to cook rice
one can delicious spam
a package of nori
soy sauce
oyster sauce
furikake seasonings

First cook the rice and then let it sit to cool. You need it to be cool enough that you can pat it into shapes. There are such things as musubi molds, but if you have one of those, you don't need this recipe. Other recipes have you shape it in the spam can itself, but I just hand-molded, as will be obvious from the pic. My technique is not so hot yet. 2 cups may seem like a lot, and it is, but I used pretty much all of it.

Slice up the spam into thin slices. You usually get 9-10 per can. While the rice is cooking, marinate the spam slices in soy sauce, oyster sauce, and honey (sugar is very common, too). After it's marinated a while, fry up the slices in a skillet, no oil needed, for a couple minutes on each side.

Take a couple sheets of nori and, using a sharp knife, slice them so that a strip will cover about a third of the musubi when made (see pics below).

Sprinkle some furikake seasonings in your rice and stir around. Then wet your hands, grab a clump of rice, and shape it into a rice cake the shape of the spam slice. They should match as closely as possible. You adjust the amount of rice by increasing the thickness. Place the rice cake on a strip of nori. Maybe sprinkle a bit of furikake on top again, maybe a little more soy, and then place a slice of spam on there. Wrap the ends of the nori up and around and press the ends together.

Done. You can wrap them up and freeze them pretty easy. Just this morning I stuck a frozen musubi from this batch in B's backpack for a snack at school.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cooking Decadence

I had some fun cooking tonight again. I just created lemon butter scallops, wine mushrooms with shallots, and fried bananas for dessert.


The wine mushrooms were based upon the recipe I've posted before for gochu jang mushrooms here. I just took out most of the experimental stuff and added shallots. So this time, I sauteed one big old shallot, quartered, in a TB of butter, then added whole mushrooms without stems for a bit more. Like 1/4 - 1/3 a cup of red wine, garlic powder, black pepper, 1 tsp of Thai fish sauce, and a big shake of Italian seasonings. Then let it boil covered for about 15 minutes. N had some this time and wanted more. She's often not too excited about my cooking, so that means something.


The scallops were not quite there, but they were fine. The jumbo sea scallops were on sale, but still $10 a pound, so I only bought 4, which was 0.5 lbs. I have this idea that it's good to eat fish once a week for health, but the whole family only likes salmon and ahi, oh sorry, uh, tuna, which can both be too expensive at times. Anyway, I'm going to give you what I think the recipe should have been, which is not quite what I ate. Preheat oven to 425. For Celsius people, that's a pretty hot, but not scalding oven temp. Take 1 TB of butter, olive oil would perhaps be better, and 1 TB of lemon juice. Melt the two things together in a saucepan. Then I drizzled half the now lemon-butter in the bottom of a ramikin-like dish which could fit 4 scallops and go in the oven. Place the scallops in the ramikin on top of the butter, then pour the rest of the lemon butter on top. Next, take some bread crumbs and stir in spices: garlic powder, paprika, black pepper, and lemon peel (or just use lemon pepper). After mixing the bread crumbs and spices, drizzle in a wee bit of olive oil and stir. Sprinkle the bread crumbs liberally on the scallops. Bake for 10-12 minutes, just until the center of the scallop is opaque when you cut it in half.

That recipe basically worked; the burst of flavor just wasn't quite there. But maybe with the slight changes I've made it'll have more burst.

OK, after all this, I made something that was super, super simple and actually just right:


This was really cool. These are the deep fried ones. We took 3 small bananas. (Actually, we used a variety I've only seen in Hawaii called apple bananas, which are slightly different than the mainland ones, but it makes no huge difference.) Sliced each into 4 pieces. Then you make some pancake batter, just from a pancake batter mix like Aunt Jemima or some such. Prepare your frying oil and then when it's hot, drop the battered bananas into the oil. Cook until golden, probably turning once, all of which takes about 3 minutes. Take one batch out and put it on a paper towel to drain and do the next batch.

That's it. Here's what they look like. (Sorry that the color of the photos are a little off.)

Now, one could eat them like that I'm sure, but one can also put them in a bowl

And put Dreyer's cookie dough ice cream on top.

I also guess one could add whip cream, crushed walnuts, and hot fudge.

But we weren't that decadent. Of these recipes, I confess the fried bananas were perhaps the best. One can't eat deep fried fruit all the time, unless one is Elvis, but it seems like something really simple to pull out for a party or T-Giving or something that 75% of the guests will actually enjoy. I am an odd ball in that I've never really liked the mix of textures when you take a cake or brownie and put ice cream on top. I'd much prefer each by themselves thank you. But the bananas and the ice cream worked perfectly together.

Friday, November 14, 2008

How smart do you feel now?

Fascinating video that a friend linked to. Basically, it's a compilation of a financial analyst named Peter Schiff pretty much exactly walking us through the financial collapse of the last few months while the other financial pundits literally laugh at him for being so stupid. How smart do those people feel now?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Onion Videos

I love many of the Onion's videos. Here's a very recent one about whether we should continue dropping money in the National Money Hole. I have a feeling BT will particularly like it.

I'd reveal a couple others I liked, but then I'd have to admit how I just wasted time watching Onion videos.

But >the cosmo one's good as is the Halloween one.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Country Proposal

I just turned my dissertation proposal in to the committee about an hour ago. Now, I have to schedule a defense, probably for the first week of December. Assuming I'll pass, then I'll really be ABD, "all but dissertation". So that's what I've been doing.

To tide us over then, here's another music post. I only own maybe 3 country albums at best, along with about 5 bluegrass (which I don't really consider country). However, I've always had a soft sport for Don Williams. Here he is singing "You're My Best Friend" from the late 70s or something. He's got that super warm baritone that makes you all fuzzy like Bing, except that he doesn't sound a thing like Bing.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Hot women make men feel bad

Hee hee. Misleading title.

I just read a little write-up about some research on the effects of looking at sexy images of women in men's magazines like Maxim, FHM, and Stuff. Here's the link. People have known for a long time that women feel worse about their own bodies when surrounded by air-brushed women in bikinis who work out 3 hours a day. The article presented a series of studies indicating that men too feel worse about their own bodies after viewing these things. The guess, and this is the guess part, not a finding, is that men feel a need to look a certain way to ever be able to get women like those in the magazines.

This makes some sense, and it matches well with the common observation that men looking to actively date often look after themselves physically more at those times. There was some article I saw recently on signs of men who are cheating or hoping to cheat in a marriage where one sign is that he starts working out, dressing up, etc., when he never did before. (In response, I've been getting fat and wearing crappy outfits lately just so N doesn't worry about me. I'm sure she's pleased about this.) This all seems very natural. However, the most interesting finding reported was this:

"Men who looked at sexualized women reported being less likely to ask a woman out on a date or to interact with her."

This then is not quite the same as getting healthy to attract someone. Instead, many men just get depressed that they will never live up to such a standard and drop out of the relationship game instead.

A related study compared the undergrad men looking at women in bikinis with men seeing images of fit guys in great clothes and such. Men didn't get depressed about their own bodies from looking at men who were in a lot better shape than themselves, but again, they did when they checked out the lingerie spreads. This would be a different pattern from women, many of whom do get body-image issues from seeing pictures of women.


Monday, November 03, 2008

One last fact check

If you'd like one last Fact Check, >this AP link is a pretty good summary of the campaigns so far. My favorite part is paragraph 3.

"Altogether, facts took a beating in the campaign. McCain and Obama produced enduring myths that their running mates and supporters amplified and distorted even more. When a non-licensed plumber who owes back taxes and would get a tax cut under Obama is held out by McCain as a stand-in for average working people who should vote Republican, you know truth-telling took a back seat to myth-making."

But it does look at both candidates and their misleads and flat-out lies. And of course, there's always However, you vote, please vote on the reality of each candidate. Neither candidate will destroy civilization. Which isn't to say that one might not make a better Prez than the other.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Worst half ever?

There are a few seconds left in the first half, but at the moment in the Oakland versus Atlanta game, Oakland has a total of...


total net yards.


in an entire half.

Atlanta has 309 net yards. OK, Oakland just got the ball back with 23 seconds, so maybe they will complete a play or two, but I really wonder if 6 net yards might truly be the worst half of professional football ever.

UPDATE: Hah!! They lost yards and finished the entire half with minus 2 yards. That's the best thing ever. - 2 yards total.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Dictionary Fallacy

I am a person who almost always comes up with my ideas while already engaged in the activity. I usually have a germ of an idea and then start writing or talking, but it only becomes clear during the writing when I discover I think something I never knew I thought.

I wanted to preserve a comment I made at The Moderate Voice blog today, and so I am copying it and the preceding discussion first. OK, mostly I think the last line is true. There are 2 commenters before me, and I am essentially replying to Commenter 1, so I copied their stuff in first.

Commenter 1:

The political entity we call "America" is divided, in reality. That division is is not a creation of either Democrats or Republicans but of a fracturing society that is diversifying itself out of existence. "United" and "diverse" are antonyms, you can have either one or the other but not both.

Commenter 2:

I have to disagree with you that "united" and "diverse" are antonyms; They are actually two unrelated words, that if used in conjunction describe what I, and many other of the "small donors" to the Obama campaign are hoping for. Homogeneous and diverse are antonyms. United and divided are antonyms. America is inherently diverse. If we can work together towards a common goal we can be united.

Commenter 1:

Diverse (adj) distinctly dissimilar or unlike
Common(adj) belonging equally to, or shared alike by all

Yep, direct antonyms. The more diverse a people the less they have in common, it's a rigidly inverse relation.


The good news, Commenter1, is that dictionaries define meanings of words as best as an academic can guess by speaking with people and reading the use of the word. However, they are most certainly not scientific descriptions of the world, in this case largely a sociological analysis. One can only put unity in direct opposition to diversity if you assume a single dimension and no creativity, but neither is true of any society or set of human relationships.

One can give a variety of examples of how diversity can in fact strengthen a unity or simply not undermine it in any way. If you have a mathematical bent, most entities can be broken down into subsets. Any set of numbers can be broken apart into diverse subsets without harming the overall unity of the entire set. If you have a biological bent, probably the best guess for why sexual reproduction exists is that it introduces diversity into the gene pool, which asexual reproduction does not. It is precisely this variability that gives the whole species as a unit (note the connection to the word unity) greater strength. Similar biological arguments could be made for the benefits and drawbacks to only being able to exist in a highly restricted niche.

On a more everyday level, often the best couples complement each other in some way. The whole opposites attract. When one person is willing to lie back and go along, the other partner will rise up and fight for what the family needs. Same goes on with parenting. My wife is better at certain aspects of parenting than me, and vice versa. We are much better parents as a pair exactly because of our diversity.

I'm sure you get the point. Deciding how societies function by looking in the dictionary is like looking up the word "atom" and thinking you are doing particle physics.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Paca's Principle of Parenting 3A

The age of the child is highly correlated with the chance of both shoes of a pair being found in a single room. The younger the child, the less chance both shoes will be discovered in one location.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Even More Yummy Academia

In case any of you missed reading specialist literature that makes little sense without a couple years' training, I've copied the abstract for a presentation my former classmate and I are submitting to a conference next June.

Variation in Apology Use through Studying Group Face

Several researchers (de Kadt, 1998; Nwoye, 1992; Obeng, 1999) have proposed that the concept of face (Brown & Levinson, 1987) can be attached to groups of people as well as individuals. Hahn and Hatfield (submitted) documented the existence of face for groups in Korean apology use, but, when comparing practice in Korea to practice in other societies, also found that that the groups bearing face were culture-specific. This observation opens up the possibility of concentrated research on diversity and variation in politeness, which is not well documented in the existing literature. This current want could be because attempts to establish legitimate inter-societal variation, such as the collectivist versus individualist distinction (Yum, 1987), can easily result in covering up intra-societal variation. The time certainly seems ripe for a concentrated, almost Labovian, look at politeness diversity within a community. In this paper, we look at apology use in Korea and the United States, focusing on possible attacks on a family's face.

A discourse completion task is employed through-out the study for two purposes: 1) to examine the existence of family face in both Korean and the United States by manipulating the family members involved in the speech events (parent, sibling, or grown child), as well as the severity of the situation, and 2) document the diversity that exists in each society with regard to family face. We examine diversity in three ways. First, we sample three different age groups, 20s, 40s, and 60s, in order to see if apology use changes through time. A discourse-completion task allows for analysis of both whether an apology is warranted at all by the event and whether the language used to apologize is differentiable by age. Secondly, we take a large enough sample of each group, with corresponding statistical analysis, to document the natural distribution of apology use. Finally, by comparing Korea with the United States, we get a first look at how typical each distribution is. The results will provide a far more nuanced view of sociolinguistic behavior than the traditional collectivist versus individualist distinction.

Brown, Penelope, Levinson, Stephen C., 1987. Politeness: Some Universals in Language Use. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

de Kadt, Elizabeth, 1998. The concept of face and its applicability to the Zulu language. Journal of Pragmatics 29 (2), 173-191.

Hahn, Jeewon, Hatfield, Hunter, submitted. The Concept of Face: Implications of Korean Apologies.

Nwoye, Onuigbo, 1992. Linguistic politeness and socio-cultural variation of the notion of face. Journal of Pragmatics 18, 309-328.

Obeng, Samuel Gyasi, 1999. Apologies in Akan discourse. Journal of Pragmatics 31(5), 709-734.

Yum, June-Ock, 1987. Korean philosophy and communication. In: Kincaid, D. Lawrence (Ed.), Communication Theory: Eastern and Western Perspectives. Academic Press, San Diego, pp. 71- 86.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

One of my favorite things in the world

The linked YouTube video is one of my absolute favorite songs in the world and I encourage a listen. However, it is in fact a 9.5 minute quiet jazz/r&b track, which, well, it's not like anyone's going to listen to it and tap their feet or laugh. It's instead calming and intelligent, perfect for nighttime with headphones, not listening to at work over YouTube as a bit of procrastination. But I offer it nonetheless.

Some things to listen for include the terrific drumming, particularly during the solos, which enlivens the lead instruments without overpowering them; the classic jazz structure with an intro, theme, solos for each lead instrument, and then back to theme and an outro; the great ways that each instrument announces its presence by echoing each other's entrance; and the odd guitar solo that's so understated you don't realize you are in his solo until half-way there.

How's that for overanalyzing something? And, yes, K-Box, much to your chagrin, it's Kool & the Gang. This is from 1974 and shows off where they got their first name, the Jazziacs.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hey, it's my dad!

A program put together by the Louisiana Farm Bureau. My father's the first male older than me. The guy in the white coat and cap. Never seen him wear either before in my life. I'm going to have to find out if they bought the coats just for the program.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Something I don't care about 1

On the front page of Yahoo, we have this headline:

Beyoncé: 'I gained almost 15 pounds'.


I have a feeling this could be a long series. Feel free to tell me in the comments something you couldn't give a flip about.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Stupid Money Box

New theory.

I need to start going to conferences and presenting to improve my CV. That takes money. I also often eat crap. So time to kill two birds with one stone. Any time I think about wasting money on something stupid, I take that same money out of the wallet and drop it in the Stupid Money Box, which I can later use for travel to conferences.

This afternoon I thought about stopping by the department for some M&Ms and a soda on the way to class. I do this a lot. so today I drank some water and now I have $1 in the Stupid Money Box.

It'll be interesting to see how this goes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The End of Politics?

Dang, I haven't mentioned anything that isn't vaguely political in a week and a half.

Can't wait for this election to be done.

Now back to the proposal.

A kernel about ACORN

I keep hearing about this group ACORN. McCain said it's undermining democracy, but it's not clear what's really going on. As always, steps in with a nice summary.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Senate voting records

Here's a link to 50 key Senate votes for Obama and McCain. Most of it is predictable. For instance, we know Obama is pro-choice and McCain not. Such votes all fall where you'd predict. The section on energy did stand out to me, because it's less clear where McCain stands on energy issues. Until the last few months, McCain had not always held the standard Republican views on energy, such as he voted to keep ANWR closed to drilling more than once. He also has a Lexington Project or some such for alternative energies and his energy commercials show pictures of windmills and such. And yet if you look at his Issue page, his proposals don't call for anything specific with regard to either solar or wind. So where does he stand? Anyway, you can see his voting record on energy here nice and quick. Of course other people will find other items of note.

The link.

Ooh, and here's a list of McCain and Obama's legislative accomplishments over the 109th and 110th. This is even more enlightening to me as it really does give you a sense of where each person's focus is. Obama's stuff seems to relate to taking care of vets, education, lobbying reform, and democracy promotion in Africa. McCain's items focus on Arizona, border control, government contracts, and contracts related to our military forces abroad. These are the things that both men actually took the time to write or be the primary supporters for, and which passed. It seems like a good guess that these reflect their own interests.

That link

OK, and the whole Open Congress web site looks amazing. You can track stuff by committee, by legislator, and the Tools page lets you track individual bills through widgets and Facebook applications. Pretty awesome stuff.

Friday, October 17, 2008

McCarthy Meet Bachmann

Here, Michele Bachmann, member of the House of Representatives from Minnesota, not only declares Obama to be "un-American", but calls for the media to investigate other members of Congress to find out whether they too are un-American. She is not alone in this. She has good company in Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reasons to Vote

It's become fairly common to say that voting for someone because of their race is just as racist as voting against them because of their race. The same is often claimed of voting for someone because of their gender.

I think this view is incorrect and here's why.

Moral decisions are made in a historical and moral context. Here's one that comes up in ethics classes: Suppose it's WWII. You are a Jew in Europe, and some Nazis are coming through the neighborhood. You and your family are hiding in a hidden room of someone who's trying to shelter you. As the Nazis come in to the house, you have an infant that starts to cry. If the crying continues, it's virtually certain that you will be found and everyone in the family is likely to die in the camps. So you cover the baby's mouth. You have to cover the baby's mouth for so long that the baby dies. (Ignore whether or not it's possible to leave the nose uncovered.)

Was this the right thing to do? It's at least a tough call, isn't? The baby was going to die if he cried, and this way you saved everyone else. Morally upstanding people can disagree about this, but even if you think that covering the mouth was the best that could be done, it doesn't mean you support killing infants. The context matters.

And it matters in elections as well. The reason that gender and race are not supposed to be factors in deciding how you vote is because they shouldn't make a difference to who is the most qualified. Being a general or a secretary of state or a senator or a governor are real qualifications for the Presidency. They demonstrate what you can do. Race and gender are not supposed to be like this. When you want someone to lead your war, you don't find the best male general or the best female general; you just get the best general.

But we don't live in a world where race and gender don't matter. We live in a world where the simple right to vote was not even granted to most adult Americans for most of the nation's history. We live in a world where people took hoses and dogs to citizens who sat at the wrong lunch counter. And while those particular events occurred a few decades ago now, there remain clear differences between people of different ethnicities and sexes in the country. Women are still paid, in many instances, less for the same work than a man is. Death penalties are applied far more often to black convicts than to white ones even in the same sort of crimes. A popular leader who is black is still often considered a black leader rather than an American leader. The end result is that a lot of people in this country don't ever really think they could be President of this nation based solely upon their skin color and sex.

So let's now compare voting for someone because they are black or a woman and voting against them because they are. Do they really seem so equal?

The against-vote says, "a woman could never be a good leader of our nation because women just aren't capable of this." The for-vote is saying something like, "if I vote for a woman for President, she can serve as a reminder to half of the nation's children, that they are not second-class and that they too can work hard to be anything they want to be. I hope it will inspire them for years to come."

Is the second view just as sexist as the first? I think not. It doesn't work of course for white men precisely because we didn't pop into existence yesterday. White men have always been in charge of stuff and every single President ever has been a white man.

Now, am I saying that one should completely base their vote upon someone's race or gender just to cure historical ills? Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely not. Did I say "absolutely" enough yet? In case, absolutely not.

It becomes just one voting issue among many. Actually having a black President will inspire many Americans to raise their expectations. And it actually could enhance our status among many other nations who still view America through the lens of the Civil Rights era. A few weeks ago I read a post on "Watching America," which is a site that translates various foreign press articles and opinions, and after Obama's nomination, a French commentator was openly reflecting on the fact that, while the French criticize American racial history routinely, they've never had a single black leader in their own nation, and there are large numbers of French people with Algerian, Cameroon, and other African backgrounds.

So there could be a slight advantage to electing someone just because of their race. Slight good could come of it. And yet, it is indeed slight. It would be the rare instance in which the good things that come out of voting for someone because of their race or gender are more important than everything else they stand for. Inspiration is nice and all, but if they are going to attack your constitutional rights, wreck the economy, use the military in detrimental ways, or mismanage the executive branch, who cares anymore about slight good will? Those things completely overweigh the race/gender issue. Very likely, at the Presidential level, it would never occur that race or gender becomes important enough to base your vote on it more than anything else.

However, still, a vote for and a vote against are not the same thing morally. To make the two equivalent is to make ethical decisions based on lists rather than the world.

**Practicing my polemical essays.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Timewaster 129

N pointed me to this blog, LovelyListing.blogspot Great way to lose an hour.

It's a collection of bizarre, odd, and funny pics that people around the world have chosen to use to list their house. It's probably best to just go browse for a bit, but a few of my faves include:

Lovely, just lovely decorating.
I know I'd feel safe in this home.
Something profound about this
Subtle. Very subtle.
My kind of neighborhood!
It's the rabbit and the baby that get me
Glad to the owners putting some effort into this

Bruahahaaa; kiss your morning goodbye.

Nostalgia and cute

On a whim, I was trying to locate some Hank Williams, Jr. videos on YouTube. Found one that another 8 million people have already found. I remember singing this song much of my childhood, and it's cute to see a 4 year old go at it. His first name's not bad at all either.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Anybody buying?

Here's my completely uninformed financial opinion.

The Dow has dropped 35% in one year. Considering the current economy, it's probably quite true that many stocks were quite over-valued a year ago, maybe by 35%, even 50%? But I can't imagine long-term that it's much more than that.

This isn't to say that there's no risk left and we are "at bottom". I imagine a large number of companies, including some stalwarts, are going to fail in the next year. But, as a whole, if we have 5 or more years to recover, most of the stocks are going to come back. (Ignoring interest, if it takes 5 years for a stock to get back to 2007's level, that's a 7% per annum growth.)

If I already had a job and didn't plan on moving in the next 24 months, I would seriously think about finding some cash to put in now. As it is, I might need all the spare cash we do have in savings to move and pay rent before the pay checks arrive in the near future.

Ignoring that, if I had time to research, I'd look for companies with low debt ratios and high liquidity and buy a few of those. You don't need super earnings from stunning new products on this pure value buy. You just want a nice stable company that can live through the next two years and come out the other side okay. However, since I don't have much time to research individual stocks (or expertise to judge), I guess I'd just buy a broad index so that the failures I can't avoid are only a portion of the holdings.

Moreover, while the financial industry is leading the charge into insolvency and taking many of us down with it, it's not like we aren't going to have banks in the future. If I had a good lead on which ones will make it, I might specifically want to buy some financial stocks.

If I had long-range money.

What do you all think? No way you are putting retirement savings in the stock market now? Or are you buying everything you can? Are you singing "t-bills, t-bills, buy what you will, i live for t-bills?" Or are you just shocked that I just did a finance related post?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Change is afoot

Well, I just sent an email resigning from my journal position at the end of the semester.


Haven't resigned from a job in 5 years or so. It should be good news, though. I was offered the chance to teach an upper level course in language acquisition (how kids learn to talk) in the Spring semester. It will look far better for me on the CV to have 3.5 years of editing plus experience teaching an upper level course, than it would to have 4 years of editing. It was something of a financial risk at the start, because there was no guarantee of funding past next semester. My advisor and I hope to be finishing up the dissertation around then (paca falls over laughing hysterically for about 10 minutes and then gets back up to type), so this would just be a little incentive. However, a grant apparently came through that would provide funding in the Fall as well if I am still around.

And so I just sent a long email resigning from the journal.

So there.

I'm going to be really busy for the rest of this year. Currently, I'm not really employable. I've got good grades, hopefully good recs, and now teaching two upper-level courses. But I've got zero pubs and that's just a complete no-go as far as getting hired. I've got that paper on Korean apologies that's been submitted to a journal since April, but so far we've heard nothing. In short, I'm going to have to rip out some publications over the next few months so that I've got a fighting chance at being paid for this one day. It's possible my internet version will be around a lot less, but we will see.

In other fun academic-ey news, a student in Australia wrote to me today asking if she could cite the Apology paper that's on my web site in a course paper of hers. (Since the paper isn't published yet and is a draft, I have a request to ask before citing. If it was actually published, people would just cite as they please.) While it's only a course paper, I think this will be my first ever citation. wahoo.

And, finally, the department is going to write up a text book for our intro to language course, and I'm currently scheduled to write the essay on "computers and language" or as I call it "talking to robots". Any of you ever had a question about anything related to computers and language? Such as... how does the computer at American Airlines understand me, or why does it never understand me? How does Google Translate work? Will we ever be able to talk to computers like we talk to people? Is text messaging destroying English? Etc. Any questions you have on this? Maybe they will end up in a textbook.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Those naughty founding fathers

If you think the tone of our current election has gotten bad, you should see what our forefathers got up to, including no names like Adams and Jefferson.

This is a hysterical account of previous elections, but, warning, much bad language.

Carbon footprint calculator

This quick CO2 calculator is kind of interesting.

However, it turned out not to be terribly useful for us. The average American CO2 output is 9.44 tons per year. I came in over 22! But 15 of it was due to air travel, and only 7 for the rest of our lives, which is below average. Basically, I entered that each of us flew a single time a year, but since we are in Hawaii, those flights are 7+ hours and killed my footprint.

At the end, it gives some ideas on reducing carbon emissions, but there's nothing you can do for a single flight once a year from Hawaii often at the mandate of your employment. I'm not going to take the train instead!

Cats and dogs living together

As most of you know, I comment frequently on certain political blogs. One thing I've learned is that whenever a certain type of conservative is all mad at me as a crazy liberal, I can pull out my trump card.

ZZ Top.

Been listening to them since I was a kid. Here's one of my favorite songs, "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide" from 1982. The Outro solo is particularly awesome.

And for more famous tunes, here we have La Grange followed by Tush.

How could they hate me now?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Less is More

Here's another guest post I did for the political blog "The Moderate Voice". It was published there Sunday morning. I'd add a link, but the post seems to be technical toast at the moment.

Just a few days ago, I was forwarded an email that claimed to have definitive proof that Barack Obama was a socialist. It contained a single quote, in which, supposedly, Obama says government must redistribute income more equitably. The implication was intended to be that Obama’s guiding philosophy is to take our money and give it to others until his notion of equality was satisfied.

As it turns out, has already debunked this email chain. Obama never said it at all, and the fake quote is a WSJ reporter’s summary of Obama arguing for government-funded health care and education. You can decide for yourself whether or not health care and education equals socialism.

The fact that an attacking email chain is untrue is not particularly noteworthy. Indeed, has an article about how such chains are almost always untrue.

More interesting is the root idea of the email, an idea shared by left, right, and those in between.

Namely, the email wished to ignore lots of data that they could use to understand Obama’s beliefs about government and tried to ferret out the hidden truth with less data. Want to know whether Obama is a socialist? Don’t read his issue proposals, listen to his speeches, or look at his voting record. Instead, ignore all of that complicated data with specific ideas and look for some single, special piece of evidence that reveals the Truth.

Using less data instead of more of course makes no sense unless you think all of the other data is unreliable, and, moreover, that you can find the real truth, not by a rigorous search and analysis, but by simply finding something to confirm what you already believe. If you don’t already think Obama is a socialist, there’s not much to be gotten from the false quote.

A similar process occurred just a few weeks ago (though it seems like a political eternity now) in the rumors that Gov. Palin’s daughter was the real mother of Gov. Palin’s youngest.

For that to be the case, one had to take just a small sample of the evidence available, and then completely underestimate what would be required for the entire scenario to be real. If one only looked at the appropriate data, the rumor seemed rather plausible.

However, all the other facts that would have needed to be true as well (medical records falsified, medical staff silenced, gubernatorial staff clueless as well as many participating in the lie, other state governors befuddled and deluded) were extremely unlikely as a whole, and required much more evidence to overrule. Of course, 2 or 3 days later the rumor was dispelled and we all went on to our next biased judgment.

We now have a repeat of this process with the associations between Ayers and Obama. We know there are some associations between the two, such as serving on an educational board together, a fund-raising event, and some conversations, when Obama was still serving in Illinois. Ayers is a past bomber, so is this evidence that Obama secretly harbors Ayers’ beliefs?

To make this work, one again needs to think that less is more.

We need to think that we can learn more about the real Obama by ignoring years of his statements, records, accomplishments, and associations, and imagining what might be, what seems likely to be based upon our prior beliefs, and this small sample of evidence we are now focused upon. Any suggestion that Ayers = Obama depends upon confining our data just to Ayers and Obama.

After all, Obama also served on the same Board with other people, and he surely had fundraisers with even more in his years as a politician. Maybe Obama secretly thinks whatever those other fundraisers think, too. It’s just as reasonable if you select your data sufficiently. You’d end up with a hundred secret Obamas, each of which is in secret sympathy with all of them.

Even if one can make the Ayers connection special, there’s still a problem. You want to think that Obama is going to reveal himself and start doing Ayers-the-terrorist-inspired actions.

But why hasn’t he been doing these things already and why will he only start doing them now? Maybe a great conspiracy that the two have been planning for over a decade? Unlikely, to say the least. Which means that Obama’s probably already been doing the sort of thing he’d like to continue doing. The Ayers-inspired Obama is the same Obama we’ve had around for years.

In short, when making judgments, one cannot just estimate what is likely to be true based upon the evidence sitting in your lap. You have to fit it into a whole story of the world. This complicates our lives. It forces us to see people as typically full of contradictions and associations that do not tell a consistent story.

But that’s closer to who we are.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Just go away!

One night a week is Daddy Night where I get the chance to put in extra hours of work. N takes care of B and it is much appreciated. I like to go to this coffee house until 9:00 after which I don't have to pay to park on campus anymore. A nice quiet place to work with Internet and sometimes butter mochi.

Naturally, tonight a guitarist and drummer show up with speakers the size of tables. I can't hear myself think. He keeps mentioning his tip jar. If I tip them, will they go away?! And can I scream that question in the middle of his concert while everyone else is singing along?


Another Meme

I grabbed this one from Ello.

1. What are your nicknames?

Paca? None really. My real name used to be unusual enough that no one ever bothered. I have been called Coke a few times in high school. As in coca cola, not cocaine.

2. What game show and/or reality show would you like to be on?

I did the phone thing once for Who Wants to be a Millionaire several years ago, but I didn't qualify.

3. What was the first movie you bought in VHS or DVD?

No real idea. Maybe Airplane! for VHS? And maybe Kiki's Delivery Service on DVD.

4. What is your favorite scent?

Baking bread?

5. If you had a million dollars that you could only spend on yourself, what would you do with it?

Home perhaps? I think I'd buy some relatively reasonable 3 bedroom or something. That's probably close to a million in Honolulu. If I lived some sane place, I could blow the rest on travel, musical instruments I wouldn't play, and books I'd never get around to reading. And kitchen supplies.

6. What one place have you visited that you can't forget and want to go back to?

I know there's one, but I can't remember it.

Tai Shan?

7. Do you trust easily?

Yes, pretty much trust everyone unless you give me a reason not to. The dude in the building next door who threatens to kill his gf and gets in fights with his own guy friends while stumbling down the street half drunk? Not so much. In fact, I despise him.

8. Do you generally think before you act, or act before you think?

Let me think about this one.

9. Is there anything that has made you unhappy these days?

I hate my procrastination tendencies.

10. Do you have a good body image?

There's this image taken of me a couple years ago with about 4 inches less on the waist. I like that image.

11. What is your favorite fruit?

I used to say blueberries, but I think I like the idea of blueberries more than actually eating them. I'll buy them and then they sit there until N suggests we eat them. Maybe the banana. How American, eh? Do Macadamia nuts count as a fruit? How about bacon?

12. What websites do you visit daily?

The blogs sitting in the menu on the right there and Yahoo and Google. That's pretty much it.

13. What have you been seriously addicted to lately?

As I said in Facebook, I have an inappropriate relationship with jalapeno cheetos.

14. What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is?

I am untagged, but Ello is cool.

15. What's the last song that got stuck in your head?

Various lines from that Weird Al tune one post down.

16. What's your favorite item of clothing?

My mom bought me this incredibly nice leather jacket from Saks 5th maybe 10 years ago which remains my favorite piece of clothing. Softest leather you've ever felt. I used to get a completely different attitude when I put it on. But I'm a little too big for it now and Hawaii is a lot too warm. It sits in a chest.

17. Do you think Rice Krispies are yummy?

Well, I made my first batch of rice krispy treats just a couple days ago. Not bad, but no one's eating them other than me.

18. What would you do if you saw $100 lying on the ground?

Well, I saw $20 sitting on the sidewalk a few months ago at the bus stop across from UH. Seemed too big to just take, so I stood around holding it for a while looking for someone to ask. Then I stuck it on a nearby news stand for a while. In the end, after about half an hour, I either left it there or took it. I think I took it. With $100? I think I'd give it to the campus security.

19. What items could you not go without during the day?


20. What should you be doing right now?

Dissertation proposal. And so....