Saturday, July 31, 2004


I have been woefully delinquent in blogging, but I do have excuses: the bride and the groom from last weekend's wedding stayed with us for a night en route to their honeymoon, and Meredith is leaving for St. Louis tomorrow. On that last point I'm sad. This has been a great summer for us. We haven't lived in the same place since I left for college twelve years ago, and who knows if we ever will again? So I'm very happy we had the chance to spend so much time together now. With my dad not around we don't even bicker. (Do you find that around your parents you and your siblings fall back into the patterns of behavior you exhibited when you were in third grade? Because we definitely do.)

I have a great sister.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


Seriously, Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics make the coolest writing system ever. I mean this stuff is beautiful.

Having a Microsoft address

At least several times a week I need to contact other linguists and/or native speakers of the languages I'm looking at with linguistic questions. This is nothing new. Every linguist looking at real data does this at every level: college, grad school, in academia or in industry. The new part for me is that I'm now contacting people with a Microsoft address.

When I would contact people in grad school from my Penn address, more often than not I got quick and helpful responses: Here's the corpus! I'm sending a manuscript of my as yet unpublished paper! Here is my analysis of your data! Sure, the system isn't perfect: there are all kinds of violations of academic integrity. However, there's this basic assumption that ideas exist independent of their originators and that they're meant to be freely exchanged and available in the public space. People put their published papers and manuscripts alike on their web pages so that colleagues everywhere can read them regardless of their access to libraries and journals. And so when you write people with questions about their work, more often than not people are willing to respond as helpfully as they can.

Now I'm not using my Penn account to ask my linguistic questions because I'm asking those questions as part of my work at Microsoft. The situation is a little more complicated because my address is an a-dash, which means that I'm a contractor. So now when I write to people with questions, maybe I get helpful responses and maybe I don't, but every response that I get includes some kind of question: Are you working for Microsoft? Is this work for Microsoft? Is this for a Microsoft project? Sometimes the comments are positive -- it's great to see that Microsoft is paying attention to smaller lesser-studied languages -- and sometimes they're negative, indicated more by the lack of reply to follow up questions than by anything else. Most of the time they appear to be neutral. But there's always a reaction.

I'm really sensitive to how I approach external linguists and native speakers in a case like this. When you're the grad student earning $15,000 a year and being asked for your work for free so that you can contribute to a project that you might eventually have the option of paying for, it's easy to feel less than fully generous. And so there's this anti-industry bias in general and an anti-Microsoft bias in particular (the casualty of success), however much that might or might not make sense in any given case. In some sense people determined to hold on to their negative biases no matter what are deliberately shooting themselves in the foot: they miss the chance to gain great visibility for their work and to contribute to the development of tools that might eventually really assist them in their own projects. And you can't complain that the products available to you suck if you've turned down the chance to give input into how they're shaped. But the fact is that until you've been the grad student earning $15,000 a year, you don't know what it's like being the grad student earning $15,000 a year. I can see where they're coming from. Right now I feel like I have a foot in both worlds.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Oprah Karenina

So this woman on the plane next to me yesterday was reading Anna Karenina. In related news, she is also a member of the Oprah book club. In another shocking twist, she was reading Anna Karenina because it was recommended as part of the Oprah book club.

My initial reaction was (inside my head): ha! you're a member of the Oprah book club? Of course you are! because I had already decided I didn't like her for other reasons, such as her tendency to ignore her own book and read Harper's over my shoulder.

And then I decided that my initial reaction was inappropriately snobbish, because after all, because of the Oprah book club she is in fact reading Anna Karenina, which in the interest of full disclosure I feel I have to point out that I've never read even though it's been on my list for some time.

And then I wondered why I had this reaction in the first place. I mean apart from the facts that this woman annoyed me anyway and that I'm a big snob. That's not usually the kind of big snob that I am. Especially when in this case it turns out that I have no actual right to snobbery.

I finished Microserfs this weekend and have little of interest to say about it except that I wanted it to be better and I feel it could have been better, but it wasn't better. I started Fingersmith yesterday on the trip home next to the Anna Karenina woman and initial prospects are promising. A Victorian lesbian love story! What's not to like about that?

Monday, July 26, 2004


Later tonight I'll return to Seattle, but this weekend I've been in and around Philadelphia for Jay and Kristina's wedding. The wedding itself was nice -- happy bride and groom, wedding band with a heavily invested sax player/tambourinist, tables named after planets in the Star Wars universe. All the usual niceties.

What's more interesting to me is the weird ambivalence I feel every time we return to Philadelphia these days, which we do at least once or twice a year since Chris's parents live in the area and we both have tons of friends there. I spent nine out of the ten years between 1992-2002 in Philadelphia, going to both college and grad school there. All in all I'd have to say it was pretty positive experience. I mostly had a pretty good time there. Sure, the place is semi-dirty, it has a total fuck-you attitude, and the motto of its public transit system is the modest yet in-your-face-obnoxious "We're getting there." But all of those things are, or were, part of its own particular kind of charm.

Living in Seattle there are some things I miss about Philadelphia and the east coast in general. I miss having a reasonable public transit system, however unambitious and craptacular. I miss being in a place where I don't have to drive everywhere. I even miss Eagles fans even though I hate the Eagles; I miss living in a place where people care about football. I miss living in a place with a deep sense of history and little streets with row houses and trees. I miss having a real autumn. Most of all, I miss the lifestyle I had when I lived there, and I miss my friends.

But increasingly with each trip back, I notice the shit I never liked about the place a lot more than the stuff I miss. I notice the way it smells in the morning when the wind carries the stink from the refineries southwest of the city and washes it all over everything. I notice that subway stops reek of old urine. I notice that everything is really, really dirty. I notice that the city is all muted grays and browns and there is little of the lush green to which I've become accustomed. The drivers are needlessly aggressive and the highway onramps are designed to maximize accidents. The fuck-you attitude feels a lot less charming than it once did. I still have some friends here, but most of them have moved on.

And so I'm left with these mixed feelings where I like coming back and I don't, and where I feel bad for the part where I don't. It feels like visiting a place where I used to live, but not like coming home.

Friday, July 23, 2004

On a jet airplane

I'm taking a redeye to Philadelphia tonight for this wedding. The best part about plane trips is that I get to catch up on reading: all this nothing but time, no way to hurry up. The only things to do are read and sleep and talk to carefully selected strangers. The best conversation I ever had in my life was with a University of Chicago law student on an airplane. It lasted all the way from San Francisco to Chicago and included Everything.

Tonight I'm hoping for no such conversations, though.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Wrapped up in books

One of the things I miss about my life of two months ago is all the time I had to read. I still read, but now it's something I have to make time to do instead of being just my normal afternoon activity. But now that my schedule is normalizing somewhat, I'm once again adding material to my book titer.

Currently I'm making my way through Microserfs, which is frankly kind of disappointing. I'm reading it partly because it seems like it should be topical and partly because I've never read it and it's been recommended to me several times. It's about half topical and one quarter interesting, but good enough to finish, so I will.

After I get through that and the latest Harper's, which I should be able to do easily with all the travel time ahead of me this weekend, there are two more books in the to-read-immediately queue. The first is Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters, which Meri recommended very highly. So highly, in fact, that she gave me a copy, so I can hardly refuse. The other book is Oblivion, the new short story collection by David Foster Wallace, which I just got yesterday. Apparently there are almost no footnotes. What is the world coming to?

After all these stories I'm going to be ready for a heavy dose of non-fiction. High on my to-purchase list is Longitude, by Dava Sobel, because Galileo's Daughter was just so wonderful.

I'm soliciting recommendations for the queue... !

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Less like a one-year-old

Meri gave me a fun belated birthday present the other day. She took one of my baby pictures and had it blown up and retouched and framed it. I am about a year old in the picture and yet my face looks exactly the same, only now I look less like a one-year-old. My face hasn't changed at all.
Chris left on Friday to meet his friend Jay in Knoxville, where Jay was wrapping up this leg of his stand-up comedy tour, and yesterday they drove back to Philly to get ready for the wedding (Jay's, not Chris's). I'm flying out this coming Friday for the wedding on Sunday, to which end I bought a spiffy new outfit this past weekend. The best part about other people's weddings is the spiffy new outfits. I refrained from following Ryan's suggestion to buy a long white dress with a veil. Oh! This is so embarrassing! You're wearing my dress!

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Musical revue

Meri and Chad and I went to see the Camera Obscura show last night. We got there in time to catch the end of Heather Duby's set. It was very Aimee Mann-ish, and I'm not just saying that because my current office location means that I see pictures of Aimee Mann more or less perpetually.
Despite the fact that the club was pretty ickily hot -- it was one of the rare days when you really feel the lack of systemic air conditioning in Seattle -- Camera Obscura was great. I love this band! If you don't know this band you really ought to, unless possibly you're Darren, because after hearing a few tracks it will come as no surprise to you that they are great pals with Stuart Murdoch, and that he has done various liner photography/production for them in the past. So anyway although the concert conditions were suboptimal, I really enjoyed it.
After the show I managed to persuade Meri and Chad to head to Ozzie's in lower Queen Anne. Ozzie's a total divey dive bar that has karaoke. Chad started off a rousing rendition of "Sex Machine" before cutting it off when he socked the waitress but good with his wacky dance moves. We had a hell of a time persuading Meri to sing at all, but once she realized that "Livin on a Prayer" was an option, there was no holding her back. She and I did our New Jersey roots proud with a rockin duet.
Sadly, Chad refused to sing "From a Distance" by Bette Midler.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

I love living here

This afternoon my sister and I went to the Ballard Locks and the Pike Market, the Locks because she had never been there and because it's just really freakin cool and the market because she got off to a bad start with the market the first time around.
If you haven't been to the Locks and you have the chance to go, you really need to make that happen. If you're not familiar with the salmon ladders there, they're guided currents that let the salmon know which way to swim to get through the canal on their journey upstream to breed. Right now we're in the thick of sockeye migration season, so the place was really dense with fish, jumping out of the water and patiently working their way against the current. It's really, really cool.
Now we're back, with fresh cheese and bread and cinnamon pullaparts and cherries and strawberries and peaches and the best nectarines I've ever had in my life. I love living here.

Thursday, July 15, 2004


So I'm going to run the Seattle Marathon this year. Unless by some miracle I get an entry to Honolulu, which is looking pretty unlikely. I agreed to train someone at work for the Seattle half, so I'm not sure how the training schedule will all work out.

Seattle is a pretty tough course. Actually the half is pretty tough too -- it's the same course as the full but without the thirteen flat miles in the middle. It's one of those courses where if you're going to run the half you might as well do the whole thing. The courses for both races go within a couple hundred yards of our apartment, but despite the fact that I've now been in Seattle just over two years and I've done tons of local races, I've never run either race. I'm looking forward to it.

I love the pre-race mood. Last year when I ran Portland Ben and I got to the start line really early (where we were by some miracle found by Chris without cell phone coordination) and we met this guy in his mid-70s who was running his first marathon. He had been so nervous he'd just showed up at four in the morning. I saw him cross the finish line not long after I did (hey, for my age I wasn't so fast... and for his age he was like lightning!). It was awesome.

So this year I'm planning to tackle the hills in my adopted home town. Unless I manage to get into Honolulu, in which case Seattle will have to wait another year. Well, where would you rather be in December?

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Are you ready for some football?

I just started a free fantasy football league through yahoo. There are still a few more slots. If you're interested, let me know and I'll give you the information you need to sign up.

Downside of a blog

Downside of a blog: all the shit I want to write about but can't. Free speech be damned -- you try writing about friends, family, co-workers, your marriage, or your job the way you really want to. At the end of the day, really free speech ends up being sort of theoretical. Unless you're the kind of blogger who has neither friends, family, co-workers, marriage, nor a job, of which there are probably several, come to think of it. In which case you may be able to say anything you want, if you still have something to say.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Count Smokula

This guy was a contestant on Blind Date last night:

Count Smokula!

I think you really need to see this episode.

Anchorman, anchorman, doing the things that an anchor can

We saw Anchorman yesterday. It was pretty dumb. During the first third of the movie, I was thinking: why am I seeing such a dumb movie? And it didn't feel dumb in a good way, either. But by the end of the movie I was thinking: this is a pretty dumb movie! I'm glad I saw it!

This burrito is delicious, but filling!

Speaking of silly movies, although this is really more of a non-sequitur than anything else, since comparing Anchorman to the movies I'm about to mention is like comparing There Was an Old Man from Nantucket to The Wasteland, it has recently emerged that Meri has seen neither This is Spinal Tap nor Waiting for Guffman. This clearly needs to be rectified, and soon.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

She complained but endured

Yesterday Meredith and I went with two friends to hike on Mount Rainier. It was cool! It was rainy! It was just like the Pacific Northwest! Only not like the Pacific Northwest in July. We started with a failed attempt at some of the trails stemming from the Skyline Loop at Paradise, but the snow level was too low and we didn't have the proper equipment. We ended up on the Rampart Ridge trail, which is at a much lower altitude. It's amazing what a thousand or two thousand feet of altitude can do to change the local habitat -- I'd previously only been to Paradise, and the Longmire area, which is where the Rampart Ridge trail is, looks totally different -- weather, vegetation, everything. In any case it was really beautiful, a trail through a forest of very tall, very straight, leafless-until-the-top fir trees. The path was covered in generation upon generation of pine needles and was very soft. Meredith complained a little about the steepness of the trail but endured, Aspen told us all about the local flora and fauna, and Ben intrepidly hiked on, possibly regretting along with me that we didn't have the option of running it. It would have made one hell of a hill workout. It was fun though, and I'm glad we went, although I won't be running as far this afternoon as I had planned.

Chris wasn't able to go with us because he had friends in from out of town, which visit meant that I was up drinking until 3:30 the night before heading to Rainier, which decision made it difficult when 8:00 yesterday morning rolled around. This visit also meant that I was able to cap off my day of hiking with a meal at La Carta de Oaxaca, which was good but not quite as good as one would have hoped. They must have been having a tough night.

I finished Nickel and Dimed this morning and I may post comments to follow.

Friday, July 09, 2004

I'm not old, but apparently I'm older.

Here is what I think: I think it is amazing that I have a friend that I have had for eighteen years.

I'm not old enough for that.

Except that I am, apparently.

Ray and I became friends fudging science lab results together in seventh grade. His is my oldest friendship and he is the person with whom I have had the second longest phone conversations (and that's really saying something).

I also consider his wife Marissa a friend. In my head she is a new friend, a friend who is married to another friend. Marissa is Ray's wife, but I like talking to her on her own merits (I wonder how many people really feel that way about their old friends' spouses, when they've known one partner much longer than they've known the other). And yet I was realizing the other day that I have known Marissa for over ten years too, which is longer than I have known several of my other friends, people whose friendships are independent of spousal or familial ties to anyone else I know.

I don't feel that different than I felt five or ten or even fifteen years ago, and yet fifteen years ago was half my life ago. I feel like there's been this line of more or less adult consciousness that started sometime in adolescence, and the major division in my life is before that line and after it. For all the milestones that have passed since, none of them feel as real or as significant as that marker between adult consciousness and what came before, even though it wasn't a defining event like a birth or a graduation or a wedding.

I'm not old, but apparently I'm older.

Thursday, July 08, 2004


Tonight Meri made her first ever multicourse meal. We had stir-fried tofu with red chile-garlic sauce (sauce that she actually made) and pan-fried noodles and vegetables. Despite her concerns everything came out really well, especially the tofu and chile-garlic sauce. Who knew? Like Yan, Meri can cook.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


Chris reminded me that the Barbara Ehrenreich book is from 2001, not last year. Yeah yeah.


I'm getting cranky.

It's happening slowly. I like my job and I like having Meredith here. I like that Meredith and Chris are getting to know each other better and getting along. I like my basic schedule, I like that I have plenty of time to go running before work in the morning, I like the group of people I work with. I even like my new chair.

But I'm getting cranky.

It was bound to catch up with me eventually, this not having enough time to myself. More than anything else I miss having time to read and write. I miss playing Scrabble. I miss not having to make meaningful choices about how to spend my time, confident in the sensation of there always being enough time, too much time, a pornography of time, more than enough hours in the day to read and write and run and talk to my friends and obsess over ridiculous TV and see movies. Maybe what I miss is: being an adolescent.

And yet, I am thrilled to be able to make meaningful choices about how I spend my time. It's a strange conundrum.

As the summer goes on I'll be able to jigger my schedule so that I can finally edit my book and send it off. Right now, at night, I feel this enormous pressure to be social, whether that means going out to dinner or seeing movies or just watching stupid TV instead of taking time to finish the book I'm enjoying or to edit my own writing or whatever else I might want to do. I feel like the only good excuse that people accept for antisocial behavior is the excuse of having work to do, and yet most of the time I prefer to be antisocial, on my own. Not in the sociopathic crazed lunatic kind of way but in the way that prefers quiet to noise, stillness to chaos, and my own company most of the time. During respites from the antisocial norm I have always been relentlessly, drivenly social. I make friends easily. But the social periods have worked exactly because I've had the backdrop of solitude against which most of my time has been spent.

Is this what real life is like, or what it means to be a grown-up?

I even like my life. I'm even happy with my current situation. But once in a while, like now, it's just going to make me a little cranky.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Nickel and Dimed

I'm reading last year's Barbara Ehrenreich book (Nickel and Dimed) right now. About halfway done. Good stuff. Not, however, happy or very optimistic stuff. More to follow when I finish, but highly recommended.

In the not very relevant story of my own life in the workforce, I think I've finally found a chair I can live with. At last, a keeper.

Everyone in the world is blogging about Kerry choosing Edwards as his running mate. I like Edwards okay although he's too conservative for me. He feels like another bright, articulate, Southern Democrat from the Bill Clinton mold. We'll see how this works out.

In the meantime, zzzzz.

Monday, July 05, 2004

The American Way

Today I celebrated our nation's glorious birth The American Way: I earned money while everyone else loafed around on a free day from work. Since I just started my job I don't have holiday pay yet, so I went to work and played with Malayalam and Bengali for a while. The Microsoft campus is sort of eerie when no one's around. You move through empty, silent parking lots outside empty, silent buildings, all with the sneaking suspicion that security is just a moment away if you do anything shifty (a sensation that it befits my patriotism to point out is also rapidly becoming The American Way).

Me, I went on a secret commando mission around my building to find myself a better chair. I'm a chair slut, on my fourth chair in two weeks, forever updating and moving up the ranks by stealth. I think I'm going to keep this one for a while. Some angel of mercy who may or may not have had the health of my lower back in mind left this baby in a random copy room for me to swap out with my previous model. I figure if it's not in someone's office it's fair game. What can I say? I'm a dangerous sort of woman.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Parcheesi and falafel

So we went to hang out at this bar last night to catch up with my friend Katherine whom I hadn't seen in a while. Katherine and I used to work together and she's one of those people that every time I see her I resolve to hang out with her more often because I always have a good time, and then we let another three months go by before hanging out again.

So anyway we go to this bar, and Katherine is there with a couple of friends of hers, and the three of them are playing a card game with this weird couple that had apparently sat down a few minutes before we arrived. And it turns out that the weird couple isn't actually a couple in the dating sense of being a couple, but instead are just two weird individuals who salsa dance together sometimes. The woman, who was slightly less weird, played solitaire and frequently looked pained. This may or may not have anything to do with the fact that she is entering her fourth year of dental school. She also left for a random hour in the middle of the night to walk to a hamburger place nearby to get a snack. This may or may not have anything to do with the fact that she had otherwise had to hang out with her salsa dancing partner the rest of the night. The guy gave each of us his business card and invited Meredith to go kite-flying.

So I started thinking: I'm all for talking to random people in bars or other places. I'm happy to talk and be talked to. And yet something about the guy made us all feel vaguely creeped out. Was it his strange eager nod and the way he rubbed his hands together while talking about Vancouver tourist attractions? Was it the fact that he apparently doesn't visit bars without a travel game kit that includes Parcheesi? I can't tell you. All I know is that he was kind of creepy.


Chris attempted to make falafel last night. This was a follow-up to my own failed attempt a few weeks ago where the falafel came out like deep fried hummus. After cooking for three hours, his came out somewhat better than mine, but all in all our experiences have told us: if you want falafel, pay the $4 and go buy it from a Middle Eastern place.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Feeling flash, flush with cash

I'm taking suggestions for the first frivolous way to enjoy having a little more disposable income. I think we're going to Vancouver sometime in the next couple of weekends, where I will eat well and buy clothes. So I guess what I mean is that I'm taking suggestions for the other first frivolous way to enjoy having a little more disposable income. So that then I can go back to saving all my duckets like a good girl who's been poor for too long.

Lately I've been refining my lists: movies to see, books to read, restaurants to try, places to travel. The last one especially (see above). I think we'll take a proper vacation sometime next year. We're narrowing our candidates to places we agree upon: Hawaii? Mexico? the UK? And I'm soliciting suggestions for that too, for locations within Hawaii and Mexico especially, since I've never been to either, and for other locations entirely, for a good place to spend a nice week in January or February. Let's go, people!

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Last night I had the strangest dream

I went to see George W. Bush speak, and he sounded all nucular-W-style, but above his head there was a little cartoon bubble filled with Malayalam script.

Do you think this is because I've spent the last week immersed in Malayalam scripts or because he's just a globally-minded kind of guy?


There's this magazine Granta that we've started getting for free (along with Mother Jones, Wired, the ratings shlockfest that is U.S. News and World Report, and whatever else they offer us and Chris says yes to) by virtue of subscribing to salon. I don't know if you've ever heard of Granta before; I hadn't. It's a literary journal that's published quarterly, all bound up with nice paper like a book, each issue dedicated to a particular theme (the latest theme is how Americans perceive the rest of the world). In fact it looks just like a literary paperback except that in between some of the stories there are ads. There are a few longer essays or stories and many, many two or three pages pieces by a variety of writers, many of whom are pretty well-regarded. It's pretty interesting. I wouldn't pay to subscribe because it's pretty pricy, but it's a nice collection of stuff. It also makes me realize how unsatisfying it can be to give a good writer only two or three pages to say something when s/he's used to having unlimited room. Some of these people should go back and take an intro comp class where they have to write two page response papers every week. They're barely getting going by the time the piece is over.

I mean it about U.S. News, by the way, It's not a shlockfest like Time or Newsweek, either. More in the sense of being just a couple of steps away from arguing that Pat Buchanan or Alan Keyes would make a damn fine president. Kind of an odd partnership for salon.