Friday, February 29, 2008

Reasons why linguists are freaks

1) Most normal people who love language enjoy words such as sublime and kerfluffle, and the subtleties of meaning in the word "grace". Linguists write articles about "the" and "or".

2) Normal people laugh at the funny things kids say. Linguists draw 12 level tree diagrams of the same 5 word sentence. Oh, it's a subjacency rule violation in an object reduced relative clause under a high memory load. That clears things right up, doesn't it?

3) A linguist's idea of a relaxing time with friends is to make up fake dialect maps of the various names of scotch tape. (It was on the dept. lounge board for a month.)

4) Normal experts in the English language wax rhapsodically about the Pathetique in George Eliot. Linguists don't have much to say about anything that's longer than two sentences. To be honest, one sentence is really fine; thank you very much.

5) Normal language teachers correct student essays in order to make them sound more persuasive. Linguists lecture their class on all the reasons "ain't" is a great word. (Me on Wednesday with my students.)

6) A linguist says the word monophthong without giggling.

7) A normal lover of language studies French and German and Thai and tries them out every chance she gets! A linguist will argue for governmental policy that supports bilingualism and trilingualism, but only speaks English decently.

8) A normal person looks up a word in a dictionary and believes what it says. A linguist looks at the entry and goes, "pff, how much was Jack drinking that day?"

9) A linguist loves to say things like, "When a noun N is followed by an adjective A in sentence S...." because it seems so much more mathematical with capital letters like that and people respect mathematicians! Usually, the abbreviations A are never used U again A1.

10) When a normal person learns a new language, they quickly learn how to ask, "where's the bathroom?" A linguist quizzes the person about the language's pronoun system. "Hey, it an inclusive vs exclusive 1st p sing system again!"

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Language Fun

I found a web site which automatically converts a web site or provided text into joke "dialects" of English. First up, here's the site:

I ran this blog through it and got the following:

First up my original text of the blog entry just below this one

I have a whole big post planned in my head, but I just woke up with a shock from the bean bag chair at 1:00 AM. Turns out diphthongs aren't as exciting as one might think. At least it's the bean bag at home, not the one in the office. For people wishing to suffer my odd sense of humor, drop by Evil Editor's blog and view the comments for the query for 'Rods'. Sometime in the morning Eastern time, I should have two comments in there, one of which took a little while.

Now, we have this translated into "Redneck"

ah have a whole trimenjus post planned in mah haid, but ah jest woke up wif a shock fum th' bean bag chair at 1:00 AM. Turns out diphthongs isn't as excitin' as one might reckon. At least it's th' bean bag at home, not th' one in th' office. Fo' varmints wishin' t'suffer mah odd sense of hoomah, drop by Evil Edito''s blog an' view th' comments fo' th' query fo' 'Rods'. Sometime in th' mo'nin' Eastern time, ah sh'd haf two comments in thar, one of which took a li'l while.


I 'ave a 'oole big post planned in me 'ead, but I just woke up wiv a shock from the bean bag chair at 1:00 AM. Turns out diphffongs ain't as excitin' as one might fink. At least it's the bloomin' bean bag at 'ome, right, not the one in the bleedin' office. For blokes wishin' ter suffer me odd sense of 'umor, drop by Evil Editor's blog and view the comments for the query for 'Rods'. Sometime in the mornin' Eastern time, I should 'ave two comments in there, one of wich took a wee wile.

"Jive" - think the scene from Airplane!

I gots some whole big post planned in mah' haid, but ah' plum woke down wid some shock fum de bean bag chair at 1:00 AM. Turns out diphdongs ain't as 'sitin' as one might dink. Ya' know? At least it's de bean bag at crib, not da damn one in de office. Fo' sucka's wishin' t'suffa' my odd sense uh humo', drop by Evil Edito''s blog and view de comments fo' de query fo' 'Rods'. Sometime in de mo'nin' Eastern time, ah' should gots two comments in dere, one uh which took some little while.

And finally "Hacker" which looks like a sort of instant messaging / chat hybrid

i hav3 whole big post planned in My hea,d buT i just woke up with A shoX0r from th ebean bAg chair at 1:00 am!!!!!!!!!!!!1 truns out Diphthons rnt as excitingas one m1ght think!!!!!!~ aT last its the bean bag 4t home, not t3h one In teh office OLOOLO... FOR 7AM3RZ WISHING TO SUFDER YM ODD SENSE OF HUM0R ,DROP BY EVIL EDITROZ BLOG A|\|D VEIW THE COMMENTZ F0R TH3 QUARY FORR ODS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1~ SOMETIME IN TEH MORNING E4STERN TIME, I SHOLUD HAEV TWO COMNMENTZ I TEHRE, ONE OF WH1CH TOK ALITTLe WHILE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1~~~~~~~ olololololo

None of these are of course real dialects, but they are a lot of fun. Maybe it will save you some time when you're trying to write in dialect for NaNoWriMo next time. They do have Swedish Chef as a choice.

Sorry, too late!

I have a whole big post planned in my head, but I just woke up with a shock from the bean bag chair at 1:00 AM. Turns out diphthongs aren't as exciting as one might think. At least it's the bean bag at home, not the one in the office. For people wishing to suffer my odd sense of humor, drop by Evil Editor's blog and view the comments for the query for 'Rods'. Sometime in the morning Eastern time, I should have two comments in there, one of which took a little while.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Is he a car?

B and I were sitting on a ledge on the sidewalk.

B intentionally coughs.

Paca: What are you doing?
B: I'm spitting a tire out.
Paca: Spitting a tire out? (Thinking, is he pretending to be a car or something?)
B: Yes, because I'm tired.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bacon avocado tree

Someone hit my post for a bacon avocado omelet recipe today by searching for "bacon avocado tree." I'm not sure if I should tell them that bacon doesn't come on a tree. If it did, deforestation would be a thing of the past. As would our cardiovascular systems. But what a way to go!

Language in Court

Here is the abstract for a rather interesting linguistics talk next week by our new prof from Australia:

Native Title is a form of radical land title found by the High Court of Australia to have existed at the time of the European invasion of Australia. In order to establish a successful claim on land that has not had any other kind of title, Native Title claimants have to establish that they have continuity with the occupants of the claimed area going back to the first settlement by non-Indigenous Australians. While a range of evidence is amassed in this process, I will discuss the use of linguistics in showing continuity with particular reference to two cases (Daniel v Western Australia and Bennell v Western Australia) in which I was employed by the claimants as a linguistic expert witness. Comparison of early texts in the language and more recent usage is one method used to show continuity, but there are issues of what constitutes 'same' and 'different' for the purposes of a legal argument. In one case we actually have hundreds of early sources, and dealing with this mass of information is a challenge for lexical comparisons.

Testifying in court to establish a land claim is not a use of linguistics one usually things about, but in fact there's an entire sub-field of linguistics called "forensic linguistics". It handles all sorts of language related issues in the justice system, from the use of language in court to phonetic analysis of evidence. When you hear that the CIA is analyzing an audio tape to see if it's really Osama on the tape, those are forensic linguists at work. Humans create sounds, particularly vowels, by reshaping our vocal tract (with our tongue and lips) and dividing it up into different resonant tubes. We all have different length vocal tubes, different size vocal cords, and even slightly different shape skulls. This all makes the sound vibrate in slightly different ways physically and identifies your speech as yours.

To take a very basic difference, you can divide the vocal tract from your voice box to your lips into two tubes. One is vertical and leads from the voice box up to where your uvula hangs down (basically your throat above the voice box); the other is horizontal and goes from the back of the throat to the lips. These two tubes are more even in women, than they are in men. Men have slightly longer back tubes (I believe). Even apart from the overall pitch difference, this is one reason a woman sounds like a woman and a man a man. If a man raises his voice to be about the same pitch as a woman, he sounds like a man who's raised his pitch. To actually sounds like the other gender, you'd have to change the complete size of your vocal tract, which is not easy to do. (Of course, there are individual differences; these are generalities about the sexes.)

Maybe if this professor thing doesn't work out, I can think of this stuff as a back-up. See you on CSI-Real Stories next season.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

No Bias - No Communication

(This post starts political but moves linguistic/psychological, so stick with it a bit if you like the latter and hate the former.)

Due to it being political season, I've been wandering The Moderate Voice political blog more, and one thing I've noticed is that I, and everyone, recognize offensive or unfair comments made towards their own points of view far more readily than they realize the same thing about a different point of view. Whenever someone goes off about liberals or leftists or university professors indoctrinating the youth, I notice it and feel the stereotyping going on. Others are trying to label points of view or people so that they can all be shoved to the corner and disregarded. One doesn't have to think about the idea, if you can shove it off as as something the crazy crowd believes. I'm off-put when I see this and make some comment about treating others as individuals with beliefs and thoughts rather than as an example of some label. However, I'm quite aware that when people go off about the Right and conservative and Republicans, I only notice some of it and get upset about it less.

This is no great realization, of course. It's normal old bias. We get upset about unfair treatment of our team and ignore unfair treatment of the other team.

As such, the first inclination is to condemn it. We should be looking for fairness for all, not just those we identify with. However, my realization today is that I don't think we could even speak to each other if we didn't have a bias like this. Or to put it differently, our inherent ability to communicate naturally creates these biases.

Time to explain.

Language has at least two main purposes: it allows us to speak to ourselves consciously and it allows us to speak to others. Focusing on the second, language is a way to transfer experiences from one head to another head. The speaker has some idea rolling around in her head and she transfers it to the hearer by speaking. You can almost think of it as an experiment. The hearer is standing there and the speaker performs some actions, for speech she moves her lungs and lips and tongue, and the hearer is changed - she has a new feeling or thought she would not have had otherwise. It's cause and effect, where the speaker's goal is to create a certain effect in the other person. This effect might be knowing what time the speaker's plane arrives, passing the salt, making the hearer like the speaker more, and a million other things. I'm doing it to all of you right now through the written word. Creating new experiences in you that you would not have had if I left you alone. (This by the way is also my philosophical aesthetics of art -- art is an experience machine.)

By the way, it's not too late! You can stop my manipulation of you by hitting the back button. But wait, I will have caused you to hit the back button, so you are still my plaything. I guess there's no way to escape it; might as well keep reading.

Now for me to get the plane-arrival-time bit of experience into your head absolutely requires that you know a billion and one things already. You have to speak the same language, of course, which involves you knowing our language's grammar, its semantics, its sound patterns, its pragmatics, and more. You must also know about planes and clocks and, if I want you to pick me up, roads and transportation and traffic lights and just an entire world of knowledge. You must know all of this already. If not, when I say, "It gets in at 7:30," it will create a completely different experience in you than I wish to create, mostly bewilderment. We must share a million experiences and beliefs or there is no communication.

But what I've just described is essentially a bias. I assume you believe what I do about clocks and time, so I don't defend it. I assume you think the way I do about the responsibilities of friends to pick each other up at airports. I assume that you know I want to be picked up just because you usually pick me up, so I only have to tell you when. I assume you will meet me at baggage claim without discussing it because everyone knows you meet in the baggage claim area. None of this need be defended.

Returning to a political conversation, when someone else says that maintaining the national debt is costing us too much money, since I share the point of view, I don't question it. I don't question supporting the legalization of gay marriage; I don't question criticizing the attacks lately on the rights of habeas corpus; and on and on. It's not just that I might be wrong about some of these things (perhaps one could argue that the deficit's percentage of GDP is sustainable, for instance), it's that the other people's ideas aren't really noticed. They roll off your back because you already hold them. It's only when an idea comes in that you don't hold that you truly notice it and assess its merits. The result is that beliefs you hold aren't analyzed with the same standards as beliefs you don't hold.

The linguistic point of all this is that assuming the beliefs of others are shared and not always up for debate is fundamental for communication to occur. If we weren't biased in this sense to our culture, our experiences, and our ingrained beliefs, culture would break down.

Most bad things result from good ones extended.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Garlic and funny

Two questions:

1) There's a classic bit of internet humor that has little cartoons and profiles of the classic participants in an internet discussion with the bomb thrower, the guru, etc. I think I even linked it on my blog some time in the last three years. Anybody know what I am talking about and can give a hint on how to search for it?

2) We've got oodles of garlic cloves in our cabinets. Any recipe ideas? At, oh, 12 cloves of garlic per head, we must have... something higher than 144 cloves to use up. (Don't we stop memorizing our multiplication tables at 12x12? Ok, ok, you're all going to make me prove that I can do higher math in my head, so 156, 168, 170,... there; happy now?)

A slight increase

Apparently, there are about 5,000 people at a normal caucus in Hawaii. Last night, there were 37,000.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A night at the Caucus

Little B and I headed to the Caucus tonight. We got to have a 5-year-old version of Civics class, as I explained to B that we were to help choose the next President. B wants me to vote for Hillary. That's mainly because as a 5-year-old, this is a much more enjoyable tune than "Yes, We Can".

I've never been to a caucus before. The old home state of Tennessee had a primary, so this was to be a new experience. Our caucus site was an elementary school in Waikiki, so off we went around 6:00 PM. (N is both sick and an independent, so she was out.) Everyone predicted record turnouts for this caucus, but apparently no one expected how record of a turnout it would be. The first clue for the night should have been finding the closest parking space in a park a 15 minute walk away.

This may be the first time Hawai'i's caucus voting has ever mattered to anyone, and Obama has local ties having spent much of his youth here, and Hawaiians love nothing if not a local (ask Jasmine Trias from American Idol), and so we arrived to find the line wrapping out of the school cafeteria, around two different buildings, then all the way back out into the street. Nothing to do, but give up or get in line, so we did.

You can see some pictures of our Caucus site on one of our local paper's web sites here. Unfortunately, we are not in the pics, but picture 2 has Senator Inouye and his fiancee. (His wife passed away a couple years back.)

Obama support was clearly in evidence, but there were some Clinton supporters as well. I really only saw about three people actively campaigning by handing out literature or holding a sign. Otherwise, people were left alone to vote as they wished. An hour and a half later... yes, that's right, an hour and a half later, B, being 5, was breaking down. It's impressive he made it 90 minutes before deciding voting for President is not quite as exciting as his daddy lead him to believe. In fact, at this time, he had had enough of both Clinton and Obama who had been forcing him to stand in line forever and ever, and so he told me I should now vote for Robin Hood the Fox-Who-Shoots-Bows-and-Arrows. But through retelling Narnia stories and shooting water arrows, flying like a dragon, and strangers handing out cookies, we finally made it inside the building two hours after we had gotten in line.

They had run out of ballots long before we got in the door. In the Hawaii caucus you must be a registered Democrat, so the first item was to check the rolls, where I discovered that I, in fact, wasn't a Democrat. But you can register on site. After you prove you are a Democrat or simply become one, I think you're supposed to get a name tag. They seemed to have this idea that people might speak to each other, but there were hundreds and hundreds of tired people and most just wanted to go home. Regardless, they had long been out of name tags as well, so my name was written on a piece of paper, and then I was sent over to my precinct table in the school cafeteria. At the table, you sign-in on your precinct sheet, and then they gave me a scrap of paper torn off a yellow legal pad - the makeshift ballots that were all that was left. You scribble your candidate's name, drop it in the envelope, and then you are done.

We left for the caucus site at 6:00 and didn't drag back in until 9:00. There is an estimate of 4,000 people at our one caucus site alone. As of now, though only about 25% of the precincts have reported, it is an Obama landslide with him taking 3/4 of the vote. However, things may change some by the morning. After all, they have to hand read all those scribbles on yellow note pads.

Yes, I voted for Friar Tuck.


I am preparing my semester schedule for the dissertation work and I wanted to have two week increments. Every two weeks, I will accomplish such and such tasks. First it read:

Week of 2/18

Week of 3/3

Then I realized that it wasn't a week, but two weeks.

So I just changed it to:

Fortnight of 2/18

Fortnight of 3/3

I wonder how my advisor will take that.

But, my dear sweet readers on whom Victoria has showered all the bounties of God's blessed Earth as the virtuous people of our nations most deserve, I must carry on forthwith.

Ain't Misbehavin'

I clearly need another post here so that my Idiot-ic joke is no longer at the top. However, I've worked on the journal until 2:30 AM and so I'm in no condition to write something new and exciting. Instead, you will get another classic tune from YouTube.

Here's Fats Waller and crew singing Ain't Misbehavin' from 1943's Stormy Weather. You can also see Lena Horne and Bo Jangles Robinson, the tap dancer, in the clip.

This version is a fun, slightly hammy take. Listen to this Dinah Washington version to hear the romance in the song.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Joke Vote

No, the title isn't a reference to elections in Florida. Instead, I have a slight joke/pun that I can imagine at least two ways of telling. Which is the better one?

Version 1:

I heard today on the radio that people from the nation of Cyprus are called Cypriots. This made me wonder if there's a nation of Idus and what they're like because, when I meet people, they often ask, "What are you? An Idiot?"

Version 2:

I heard today on the radio that people from the nation of Cyprus are called Cypriots. Most of the people I meet every day are apparently from the nation of Idus.

Ba-dum-bump. How would you tighten? Most likely correct answer: Delete the post.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The ultimate ice cream

Cold Stone Creamery (or Maggie Moos or Marble Slab):

Chocolate ice cream
2, count 'em 2!, mix-ins of cookie dough. That's right. A double shot.
1 mix-in of chopped walnuts.

How about you?

Beef and broccoli recipe

OK, time for another recipe. This is the Chinese beef and broccoli that you can get from a million Chinese take-outs and restaurants. It comes out edible almost every time, so it's time to post the recipe. I assume you could put in other meats and other vegies and just use the sauce if you like neither beef nor broccoli.

First off, the recipe is based upon the one here, so you may want to read it. However, I've modified it a fair bit now, so here is the new version. I might even try to write it up all recipe-style like.

1 lb. of beef sliced thin (stir fry beef from store works fine if you aren't a slicer)
A crown of broccoli
Other vegies as desired: The recipe only calls for broc., but I've added zucchini to fine effect and mushrooms would be good surely.
garlic powder

4 TB soy sauce
2 TB oyster sauce
2 TB hoisin sauce (all of these are useful for stir-frying generally so you probably don't need to spend 4 bucks just to use 2 TB and then toss them away)
2 TB water

2-3 tsp corn starch
2 TB water

1 c. Rice
1 3/4 c. water

How to Cook

Cook the rice:
Cook some rice however you like. Rice cooker, steamer, or, for me, rice in water in a covered sauce pan. Bring to a boil, cover, turn to low, and wait about 20 minutes.

Prep the sauce and thickener:

Put all sauce ingredients into a small bowl and mix. Do the same with the corn starch thickener. The sauce can sit just fine while you do the rest. You will likely want to re-stir the thickener before using as the corn starch will settle.

Prep and cook the broccoli:

Wash the crown and then slice thin. You can use more stalk than you typically might because you will be slicing right through the stalk a couple times, making it fairly thin. When I prep broccoli normally, I typically just cut off the little flowerettes. Think more vertically here. Just slice right through it.

Boil some water. Toss the broccoli in when boiling and cook for just maybe 4 minutes until it turns bright green. It's thin and will cook fast. When done, pour the broccoli out into a colander and set aside. Don't just let it sit in the water.

Cook the beef:

In a wok or skillet, pour half a cup of oil and bring to a medium-high heat. (If you look at the original recipe, they use a whole cup of oil, so I'm Mr. Healthy! You know, it might work to just fry the meat up in a couple TBs. With enough sauce you probably won't notice much difference, but I've always followed the recipe so far.) Cook the beef in the oil until it turns brown on all sides. Wait about a minute more. Then remove the beef from the oil with a slotted spoon and put into a bowl.

Put it all together:

Pour all the beef oil out in some appropriate way. If you own your place, you would discard in a bucket or pour a little bit with a hot stream of water into the sink. If you rent, just dump it at once down the drain. Wipe the wok briefly and return to medium-high heat.

Add 2 TB cooking oil to wok. At heat, add the broccoli to the wok. Add the beef to the wok. Sprinkle some garlic powder (or minced garlic) in. Add the sauce. Stir around a bit so that some sauce is getting on all the food. Make a well in the middle of the wok and add the thickener. Wait a sec, then stir it all together. Keep stirring until it's all hot.

Put some rice on a plate; ladle some of the dish on top. Consume.

If you compare with the original recipe, the major changes are: 1) I boil the broccoli so that two things can happen at once; 2) I've doubled the sauce; 3) I use 1/3 oyster 1/3 soy and 1/3 hoisin while the original was 1/2 oyster and 1/2 soy with no hoisin. It's slightly sweet but not overly (N hates sweet entrees). The primary health things are probably the method of cooking the beef and all the salt in soy sauce.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Buck Rogers Drinking Game

Apparently, this has turned into nostalgia Friday, but it isn't my fault.

This evening I was doing dishes while B and N were in bed watching random things on the computer. They apparently finished the most recent episode of the anime Bleach (that's a reference there for Moonrat) and then somehow N next found Comcast putting out episodes of the old Buck Rogers in the 25th Century TV Show that were made from 1979-1981 and lived in reruns for most of the 80s. To get B interested I told him to watch out for Twiki, the robot, who would say "Bidi bidi bidi."

A couple minutes later as I was scrubbing a pot, B yells, "Daddy, I saw the robot!"

"Good," I respond. "Has he said 'bidi bidi bidi' yet?"

"Not yet."

The pot is finished and as I dig macaroni and cheese from the dish drainer, I suddenly hear, "Daddy, he said 'bidi bidi bidi!'"

"Yippee, everybody take a drink," I declared. "Chocolate milk, I guess."

Doesn't Buck Rogers seem made for a drinking game?

By the way, it appears that Captain Kirk has nothing on Buck Rogers. Every woman who was ever in the room with Buck for more than about 2 minutes hit on the guy. The only difference seems to be that Kirk always accepted the pass.

My supper dish, my succotash wish

I've never been a dance/house music kind of guy, but it doesn't stop me from having liked this song for many a year now.

This song; (there's a link below the picture to listen to it).

If I didn't know the tune was 18 years old (18 years!), I could (almost) imagine it still being released today. The only part that sounds old to me is the style of rap, which does sound late 80s early 90s.

By the way, robin s can use this song in her continuing war with EE about people being delicious. One lyric from the tune:

"He's not vicious or malicious, just de-lovely and delicious."

Can anyone name the tune from the lyric without clicking on the link?

I couldn't ask for another...

Incidentally, since I started college in 1990, I almost (but not quite since I have mostly junior and seniors) have people in my class who weren't born when I started college. Bah! I'm only 34!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

One (more) problem writing

I have no desire to be in a book that I've written. I don't want a literary analyst to read something I have written and then draw conclusions about my views on gender, race, power, class, etc. I don't want someone to write a column about the parallels in my love life and the romance in the book or the effect of own marital dynamics upon the relationship of Prince Bortle and Princess Burguli in my 3rd novel . I don't even like revealing my fantasies to others, be they romantic, adventure, etc. It's my life and my fantasies. You've got your own; leave mine alone. (That last sentence makes a nice chant for a protest march though.)

This may sound very strange since I maintain this blog where I talk about my life, my politics, my vacations, and even the food I eat. But none of that is particularly personal -- in some way I don't quite understand. I do know that I write things as pacatrue that I wouldn't write under my own name, even though most of you can look my real name up quite easily if you don't already know it. Being "pacatrue" establishes an identity as a blogger.

I was thinking about this again because of a post on EE about pennames. The ideal pen name for me would be something like... saki. (H.R. Munro, the short story writer). Is saki Finnish, Iranian, Japanese, something else? Male, female? The name doesn't tell you. You just have to read the story and decide if you like it or not on its own merits. No debates about whether a man can write from a woman's POV, whether a person of one ethnicity can write about a character of another ethnicity, etc.

Just leave me alone and read the book if you want to.

But this desire for privacy limits me, I know. One's life and dreams are the greatest inspiration a writer has, so to choose to bottle it up because they're mine, mine, mine surely prevents me from writing some things that might be of interest. And while I long for privacy, I am well aware that every character I've ever written is some version of the ideas and beliefs in my head.

It's all a big mess and I can't untangle it. In general, I like anonymity; just send the check in my name please.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bacon-wrapped asparagus

Many months ago now, I went to a linguistics reading group meeting at a Japanese restaurant and one of the appetizers was bacon-wrapped asparagus. I just made it tonight, and I thought it came out pretty well for a first try.

What I did was wash and trim the asparagus. Then I wrapped a piece of bacon around it. Finally, I had a toothpick stuck in each end so it wouldn't fall apart. N mentioned the trick would probably be getting the asparagus and bacon to finish cooking at the same time. Taking that warning to heart, I put it in a skillet with some oil that I have a lid for. Then I simply cooked it a while on one side with the top on so that the asparagus could steam at the same time. Then I pulled the toothpicks out and flipped it to the other side. After a bit, the bacon seemed done and the asparagus was just fine inside. Easy.

I did see from reading some recipes sort of after the fact that many people bake it. One drawback to mine was that the bacon did overwhelm the asparagus taste-wise, and a couple recipes had you slicing the bacon in half length-wise, which makes sense recipe-wise. There you go. For those of you who don't like asparagus food-wise, this could be a good starter dish novice-wise. It's all crispy and tastes almost entirely like bacon bacon-wise.

My thought on everyday political philosophy

Sorry to have been silent. I did write a comment or two over on The Moderate Voice political blog and decided I wanted to save one here. Someone did a post about thinking a McCain/ Obama election campaign might actually be relatively civil, by political standards. Another commenter, strongly conservative by my perception, responded that a civil campaign would only favor Democrats, since civil campaigns are all about personality and image. The following was my response, and it's the last paragraph that I wanted to keep.


I don't understand why a civil campaign favors Democrats unless Republican or conservative ideas can't be expressed with reason, honesty, and politeness -- something which I, even as a Democrat, reject. McCain can attack Obama's or Clinton's ideas relentlessly and thoroughly while maintaining respect for Obama or Clinton as an individual, and vice versa.

Of course, it's largely moot because, even if McCain and Clinton/Obama conduct themselves relatively decently, there will be tons of money on both sides slinging as much innuendo and character assassination as they can afford.

To be honest, this reminds me historically a little bit of many Christian institutional attacks on philosophy and science by limiting their expression or doing away with the people expressing the ideas, instead of combating the ideas directly. This always seemed wholly unnecessary as Christian philosophy can go toe to toe with almost any other philosophy that it had to compete with.

In the same manner, conservative philosophy can battle civilly with liberal philosophy just fine. The main problem might be that we will discover most Republicans don't hold a conservative philosophy and most Democrats don't hold a liberal philosophy, whatever that is. We simply support certain people and certain issues and vote for whoever advances that hodgepodge of values as best we can.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

How I spent my day

We were up around 7 this morning. After goofing off for a bit, I made it to the stove where I cooked up some breakfast sausages and "toad in a holes." Do others use this term? You cut a circle out of a slice of bread, put some butter in a pan, toss the hole-y bread in, and then add the egg in the middle. Pretty good, but really heavy. One slice did the trick.

I think we then continued our "recovery from being sick" work, meaning we cleaned house for a couple hours. Today's task was the living room. Straighten the kitchen up again and we could have people over without embarassment. Yippee!

Around 10:30 we headed out for the Big Purchase. N's computer died a few weeks ago and so we have been investigating replacements. We picked up the new item today. Apparently B has spent much of the day watching the PBS Kids show SuperWhy on it. Due to this show, we all spend a lot of time now spinning in circles and transforming into various superheroes -- all of us, at B's instructions. Mostly we turn into Narnia characters. I apparently transform into Peter, which is a step up because I used to always be Bad King Miraz. B is always, always Prince Caspian unless he's transforming into "people", which I think is a regular mortal.

After the Purchase, I dropped everyone off at home and headed to campus for my first (and I am not kidding about this) full day of work in my office this entire semester.

Today's major project was creating a script in an acoustic software program called Praat. The program is free, but unless you are doing acoustics work, I can't think of what you'd do with it. But, hey, have at it! So my little program in the software take a series of sound files in a directory, loads them into the software, matches them with a new intonation pattern I'd previously created, resynthesizes the speech with the new intonation, and then writes the sound file back out. As of 8:00 PM tonight, it's actually working. Tomorrow I have to present the ideas to my only scheduled class.

After scripting was done, I spent an hour and some happily informing a couple authors that their papers were to be accepted pending certain edits. Our acceptance rate is around 9%, so I spend most of my time writing the other type of letter. By the way, much of academic editing seems to be the same as fiction editing. More than half of our manuscripts don't even fit the guidelines we supply for every author about what we publish. The journal is about language and technology and yet we routinely get papers that have nothing to do with technology at all, and sometimes not even language.

Finally, after that, I reviewed the phonetic text for teaching tomorrow's class. I've been befuddling them over the last couple classes about voicing in consonants (that stuff I talked about a bit in a blogpost last week, but in more detail). I think I can get them over the befuddled hump tomorrow and then it's on to fricatives (s, z, th, f, v), nasals (m, n, ng), and approximants (w, y, r, l). This should go quicker, but I always think that.

It's now around 10:40 and I'm heading home. Rather early actually. Feels weird.

Classic Paca 2

Classic Paca 2 from 2006. 'oala was around for this continuation, and I think December as well. But other EE buddies, other than EE, might not have seen it. I was actually looking for my very first EE continuation in a fit of nostalgia, since it's the only creative writing I do, but I can't find it with a search. I'd have to browse all the archives and my nostalgia isn't that stong.

And here was my other musical EE continuation.

Here we go, New Beginning #8 from July 26, 2008 was my first *continuation*. As I remember the very first two sentences in blue are mine and the rest is EE. Been hanging around there a while apparently.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

History, language, and the quiche

As you all know, English has borrowed thousands and thousands of its words from other languages. You can trace some of the history of a people through the types of words it has borrowed. I went to a pretty cool lecture last semester by an anthropologist who traced the homeland of the Indo-European ancestors by the borrowing of various words related to weaving and when the corresponding inventions occurred. You can see some English social history by looking at words as well.

For instance, most of the words in English starting with the "sk" sound aren't from Old English. Instead they were borrowed from the Scandinavian languages of the Viking colonists who settled in the Isles in the last half of the 1st millennium. (Yes, that was my way of getting out of not knowing the exact century. I'd guess 8th or 9th, but maybe earlier?) This includes very basic words like 'sky' and 'skirt'. 'Sky' is particularly remarkable. Some types of words are quite easily borrowed. When words are created for new technologies, the other culture often borrows the word as well as the technology. Hence, English terms for computer stuff dominates around the world, because the other cultures had no other terms before. But every culture has a word for the sky (and rain, and girl, and boy, and mother, and dirt, etc.) already, so it's borrowed less often. The fact that English speakers did take the term for sky from Viking colonists reveals that after a bit of time, those colonist were highly integrated into everyday English life.

The greatest borrowing of English vocabulary is, however, from French due in large part to that whole Battle of Hastings thing where William the Conqueror left Normandy and captured the southern parts of Britain. A majority of Modern English words are French in origin. But the French terms in English aren't distributed like the Viking ones are. One way to see this is with food.

In French:

a pig in the field: porc
a pig on the dinner table: porc

a cow in the field: beouf
a cow on the dinner table: beouf

a sheep in the field: mouton
a sheep on the dinner table: mouton

Compare to modern English:

a pig in the field: pig
a pig on the dinner table: pork

a cow in the field: cow
a cow on the dinner table: beef

a sheep in the field: sheep
a sheep on the dinner table: mutton

As you can see, in French they use the same word for the live version and the tasty version, while in English we kept the English terms when the animal is walking around, but borrowed the French ones for meals. This gives a clue to where English people were running into French speaking people. It wasn't on the farm; it was inside the manor. French terms also dominate politics, legal institutions, educational and medical environments. In other words, the French people were in charge, running the institutions of power and the English folks were serving them beef bourgignon in the manor hall.

Turning now to the famous quiche, the French are famous in the English-speaking world for being great chefs, a land of lovely French cuisine. It's no accident that Pixar's Ratatouille was set in Paris and not Liverpool. I've been to both the UK and France and, well, the French food sure did seem better overall. As much as I do appreciate a pint of hard cider, some Shepherd's pie, and even a ploughman's sandwich, I could do without ever eating kidney pie, mincemeat, most pasties, and the god awful fried food served at the Kings College refectory (cafeteria) again in my life.

And yet I also wonder how much the legacy of English history still lingers in our ratings of national cuisines. Starting a thousand years ago, people were trained that fancy food for banquets was French in design and went by the names of boeuf, porc, and mouton. I can't imagine that plays no role at all in our thinking.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A collection of political thoughts

I am well aware that one should not talk politics in polite company, but the virtue of this being a personal blog more than anything else is that I get to say whatever's on my mind.

1) I watched some highlights from Bush' final State of the Union speech and I can't help but think that in Bush's head the definition of bipartisanship is "both parties do what I tell them to do."

2) My politics are basically moderate Democratic except that I, like many, have a sort of libertarian strain in which I very much appreciate the ideas of federalism, states rights, and small government. For instance, while I very much know the human need for universal health care (and I would benefit enormously from it personally), I periodically just don't think the government should be required to provide health care to all. Part of life is that we are born, we have healthy spells, we get sick, we get better, and we eventually die. Falling ill is part of life. I can testify to that over the last month. Should the government really be involved in it if here are no issues of general public health such as epidemics? But at the same time as soon as you allow for government provided education, I can't find a way to not allow government provided health care. We provide universal education because of the various benefits an educated citizenry provides to the nation. A healthy people provides similar benefits. In the end, I usually end up voting rather typical Democratic positions because I've never found a coherent way to incorporate my small govt philosophy into other things I believe. For instance, I am a believer in the government doing fewer things well as opposed to many things in a mediocre fashion. This translates into cuts of programs the government should not be involved in. But cutting what? What political philosophy do I have that justifies certain governmental actions but rules out others? None. So this part of me sits on the side, waiting to be relevant.

3) OK, this could become a rant. Let's see. I like McCain just fine. I agree with him on some policies and disagree on several others. But I basically respect him as far as I know him, which is little. However, I don't think I could ever vote for him, all for a single reason. He seems to still think that the Iraq war was a good idea and that he's been proven right by the "success" of the Surge.

Some things need to be distinguished here. McCain had been arguing, post invasion, that we needed more military to accomplish our goals and the Rumsfeld plan just wasn't working. They eventually did boot Rumsfeld, increase troop levels, and have had some military success. I give McCain credit for that, as much as any Senator can get credit for a military strategy that he or she does not design or implement. However, this is an entirely separate matter from whether the war should have ever been initiated. If McCain is taking the limited success of the Surge as vindication of the War, then I reject it.

None of the reasons for the Iraq war hold up strategically or ultimately morally. If the war was supposed to be for national defense, there were a lot of other problems in the world that are more damaging to our long-term strategic interests than Saddam's Iraq. The Palestinian issue remains the biggest source of hatred in the Arab world against the U.S., not Saddam. If the war was supposed to be for humanitarian purposes, to free the Iraqi people from the truly brutal regime they were living under, then I respect the idea, but we should be in Sudan, Burma, North Korea, and several other places right now. But we are not, which suggests that no one actually believes this. This brings us to the notion of "preemptive war". Strike before you are struck. I have to reject this on moral grounds. Part of the trouble with being the good guy is you can't hit people before they at least try to hit you. And it turned out that Iraq provided the reason for this moral guideline. We thought they had dangerous weapons that could do sudden and serious harm to Americans, but oops, they didn't. The smallest body count of Iraqi civilians dead now is close to 90,000 and everyone knows that is too small, though we don't know how small. 90,000 dead men, women, and children, civilians, because we thought we knew something we didn't in fact know. And a simple death toll ignores injuries, trauma, and the hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis who've lost their homes. A preemptive war is supposed to prevent deaths, but we've ended up with 90,000 people, at least, gone from this world. I know they are Iraqi, not American, but they still count if you are the good guy.

This reminds me of a character in one of my favorite books, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. The character has a twisted sense of honor such that he fights duels across most of 17th century Europe, often in the name of preventing a duel. To prevent a duel from possibly occurring in the future, he initiates one now.

Returning to the topic, now that we are in Iraq I fully appreciate the idea that we should do as much good as we can. Perhaps through the sacrifice of so many of our military, we will pull something miraculous off and Iraqis will end up in a better world than they started off in in 2003. We must hope so. But even if this is accomplished, we cannot take this as justification for initiating the war in the first place. An analogy makes the point.

Let's say I crash my car into someone else. They have serious injuries but slowly recover over many months or years. During this time they reflect on their life and where they were headed and all the mistakes they made, and so they actually build a better life for themselves. They end up happier than they were if I had never smashed their car in the first place. But does this mean I should go around ramming my car into people? No.

Rant done. :)

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

You only think I said that

Tomorrow's topic in phonetics is the phoneme. Fun word, phoneme. It's kind of like fun-neme, or even fun-meme, but not. Phonemes have to do with the fact that what we hear in speech is often not what was said.

Speech is this highly dynamic, noisy acoustic signal, and it can be categorized, sliced and diced, in a lot of different ways. This happens most clearly with vowels. Vowels are really wishy-washy things. When people say the sound "ee", they, generally speaking (ba-dum-bump), raise their tongue towards the roof of the mouth and push it forward a bit behind the teeth. But there's no "ee" grooves keeping your tongue exactly on target, and sometimes it's a little higher, sometimes a little lower, sometimes a little more back, etc. But as long as it's close enough we hear it as the sound "ee" and hear the word "whee" and not "whoa" or "whoo" (or actual words). But, what the heck does "close enough" mean? How close do you have to be?

A lot of it depends upon the language. English happens to have another vowel that's very close to "ee" but different in a way we care about. Compare the vowels in "heat" versus "hit". The second vowel's pretty close to the first, but not quite as high and not quite as front. And, most importantly, it makes a new word. If you don't hear the difference between these two vowels then you can't tell these words apart. This is the (traditional) idea of the phoneme. They are categories of sounds, here two vowels, that make a difference in meaning. In many other languages there's no vowel like the 'i' in "hit". The next vowel is further away. And so in those languages, often, sounds which we English speakers hear as two different vowels collapse to be just one sound. Japanese is an example of this. There is no need to distinguish the "hit" vowel from the "heat" vowel and so they don't. To them, there's only one phoneme "ee" and "hit" sounds just like "heat". If you listen to a Japanese pop idol singing in English, you can often hear vowels that should sound like the one in "hit" being pronounced like "heat". And that's why.

So a phoneme is a mental category; it's a perception in your mind. In my vowel example, English had two phonemes in the area that Japanese only has one, but they are both pretty close acoustically. However, phonemes aren't just a matter of categorizing very similar things slightly differently. We hear some items that acoustically, physically are really different as the exact same thing, the exact same phoneme.

Moving to consonants, there's a group of consonants that are all made by putting the tip of your tongue to this ridge behind your teeth. Sounds made here include [t], [d], [n], [s], and [z], among others. Consonants made here are 1) really popular in the world's languages (there was a time when linguists thought that all languages had a [t], but it's not true; Hawaiian has no [t] sound) and 2) really prone to move around and vary. Focusing on [t] for a second, try saying the word "top". If you hold your hand in front of your mouth, you are likely to feel a little puff of air after the [t]. Now say "stop" with your hand in front. If there's any puff of air at all, it's very small. We actually say two different types of [t] based on whether it's the first sound in the word or the second, but we only hear [t]. Now say "cat" but don't open your mouth at the end of the word, just stop there. Still sounds like a [t] and yet this [t] is different from both of the last two [t]s because you don't even open your mouth at the end. In fact, this [t] is almost nothing but silence.

And [t] moves around even more than this.

Try saying "butter". If you have a posh British accent, your [t] there is probably pretty close to the one in "top". But if you have an American accent, your [t] likely just changed from a [t] to a little tap where you just pop your tongue a single time against that ridge and let it go. As far as phonetics is concerned, this isn't a [t] at all. Yet it still sounds like one to an American English speaker. Now try "cotton" and "button". If you articulated it very carefully, you may have just said [t] still. However, the far more common way to say this is to not use a [t] at all. Instead, you shut off all air down in your glottis/thorax/adam's apple/voice box when the [t] would occur. You might be able to hear this by saying "cotton" and stopping right at the silence of the "t" and before the [n] comes. A [t] is made, remember, by putting your tongue at the ridge behind your teeth. But if you stop yourself before the [n], which is made at the same point as [t], you will discover that your tongue didn't need to move to the ridge at all to make that consonant we call [t].

The point of all this is that phonetically, physically, there were five different sounds there, one of which never used the [t] place in your mouth at all, and yet they all sound identical to an English speaker. They all sound like the phoneme [t].

I don't know if you will believe this last one, but it's true. [n] moves around a lot as well. [n] is made at the same place as [t], with your tongue on that ridge. The difference between the two is that air goes through your nose on [n], while it doesn't on [t]. (Say a normal [n] and let it go for a while. Now say an [n] holding your nose closed. Can't keep it up for long, can you?) However, [n] loves to move to wherever you make the next consonant. If you just say just the word "ten", then your tongue will go right to the ridge. But now look at the word "boys". A [b] is made with the lips coming together and doesn't use the tongue. Now say "ten boys". Again, speaking carefully, you will put your tongue on the ridge for [n]. But if you speak at a normal pace, most people, most of the time, never move their tongue to the ridge at all for the "n" of "ten boys". Instead, they just close their lips like they need to do for the [b] that follows and let air out the nose. What's particularly weird about this is that closing your lips and letting air out the nose is in fact an [m]. (Sing, mmmm, mmm mmmm; now say mmmm with your mouth open. Can't). So we say the [m] sound, but hear the [n] phoneme. We can do this because, as English speakers, we sort of "undo" the process that moves the [n]. We know that [n]s move to the lips before [b] and so we undo that step and just hear [n].

Someone says one thing and we hear another thing. Learning how to warp reality is part of learning your native language. Learning how to undo your own warping and hear what actually occurs is linguistics training.

Paca Notes

1) Trying the netflix thing. Hard to judge if it's for us yet or not. One great thing is that they have an Oahu shipping center, so we dropped our movie in the mail to them yesterday at 1:00 and the were shipping the new one today.

2) B is sick now so I am home with him, despite me getting better. But he seems to be handling whatever he's got much better than I did, so let's hope that holds up.

3) I'm teaching now regularly, but the being sick thing still influences the class. Basically, I've had little extra prep time, so I'm teaching mostly out of my head. Before the semester I had all these plans for projects and the like, but instead I just go to class and tell them what they need to know. Maybe in a couple weeks.

4) The latest issue of the journal I manage published today, though we are still tweaking it. I think the only thing there that might be of general interest to non-language teachers is a column about Google (right hand side). The author discusses a whole bunch of google tools that I didn't know about. I think there should be some sort of award for being out for almost three weeks and only publishing 4 days late.

5) Today was Mardi Gras and I did nothing MardiGras-esque. Lame. I did cook boulangere potatoes which were decent, so I will give that recipe one day.

6) Do people prefer trivia categories where almost everyone gets them all right and the winner is determined by speed, or do you prefer categories where only 2 or 3 people get the top number right? I'll be honest that I prefer the latter, but I'm only one vote.

7) I'm miserable at estimating how long something in class will take, always underestimating. The good news is that I'm usually prepped a class into the future since we don't finish what was originally planned.

8) I think I will do a post about something linguisticey.

It's a conspiracy, I know

We've been in our apartment now for 3 and a half years. Sometimes we talk about moving, usually to reduce noise, but so far it hasn't happened. Moving is such a pain and, really, to get a better place we'd either have to pay more or move to the burbs and add a commute. No desire to do that. So our place isn't a bad value. It's a one bedroom for three people, but most of the two bedrooms we looked at are the same size as our current place; they just add a divider between the kitchen and the living room and, voila, two bedrooms.

However, since we've been here a while now, our leases have expired a couple times. I once called to get a new lease, but I discovered that's a mistake. You see, as soon as they look at your lease, they can think about raising the rent, which they did. It's within the market as far as we can tell, but still, it's a raise. In fact, it's beginning to seem to me that almost every time you call them, if the lease is expired, not too much later you get a new lease in the mail with a $50 a month bump.

So now there are a couple odds and ends in the apartment I think they should fix, but we're month to month at the moment. I ain't calling. As soon as I do, I know they'll penalize me for it.

You gotta lay low, stay out sight, live in the shadows, man. If we keep quiet enough, maybe they'll forget the place is leased at all. Otherwise, boom! Rental adjustment.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Who knows?

First up, thanks everyone for all the kind wishes over the last few weeks. Today is definitely better than Saturday or Friday. I still get shots of pain when I cough, but they are about half the intensity of before. I still put my hand on my side and brace against the wall with each pain shot, but on Friday I was launching my body into the air, cursing, and ripping the sheets off the bed. So hopefully this line from the doc about the pneumonia itself causing the pain is accurate and the antibiotics are doing the trick. I was able to contribute a bit to the household again today, cooking both breakfast and dinner, putting B to bed, and helping with some cleaning. Now, it's true that sometimes my cleaning involved lying on the floor, putting away whatever was near my body, and that a half hour of cleaning would be followed by a half hour in bed, but still it's a definite improvement from being in bed all day.

In other news, I grew up in a small town with a soybean field across the street and only 5 houses on the road. I remember hearing a neighbor's lawn mower, but otherwise things were quiet. Other people generally were not heard from your own house. And so living in a city, particularly when we can't afford to be on the 30th floor of some condo high-rise, has always been an adjustment for me. You hear other people all the time. This is exacerbated by the fact that it's common to have no heating or air conditioning here and just have your windows open. So you hear people walking down the sidewalk by your window, yelling in some other building, driving their scooter down the street, dropping their friends off at 2:00 AM, etc. I could tell you quite a bit about Lance and Elaine and their child custody issues from my neighbors standing outside my window at 3 in the morning Friday night, having a smoke. (By the way, the general consensus is that Lance rocks, but Elaine has issues, and this was a male and female opinion.)

The positive side of this is that you don't actually have to watch popular sporting events yourself; you can just wait for the cheers of people all around you and then go look up the cause. For instance, today I was prepping for my class tomorrow during the Super Bowl, which was not on. Periodically, a big cheer would go up in the air, and I would just hop on over to Yahoo Sports to see what had happened. If I could only have random people make noise for my personal calendar.

Friday, February 01, 2008

I'm a mess

UPDATE: I thought I had ripped a muscle or something from coughing too much, but the doc this morning thinks it's the pneumonia itself causing pain. I don't quite understand how it does it, but it is true that the pain is centered right around where the pneumonia is in the lower part of the right lung. He set me up with two new antibiotics and a pain killer. I've taken them, but the pain killer sure ain't doing the trick yet. We will see. On the positive side, my blood oxygen level has gotten back to normal. If I could just stop grunting and cursing in pain and clutching the bed, I'd be in good shape.

My back has been hurting a bit on one side; I assume because of lying the wrong way for almost 3 weeks now. Still, apart from an occasional moan here and there, it was the least of my concerns. Then this morning I had one of my coughing fits and my old back just lit up in screaming pain. It felt like something popped almost. So now I've had to ask N to come get me from school and take me home to lie down again. Each cough now causes a little shot of hey-look-at-me pain.

I'm getting very, very tired of this.