Saturday, April 30, 2005

I used to think that the day would never come.

Victory! Chris and I persuaded Mike to buy a TiVo this weekend. His life will never be the same. He'll be thanking us for this for years to come. I feel like I'm all wide-eyed shilling Amway, or like I'm representing some particularly insidious cult. Except that I know that my cult's the one, true faith. Of course.

This morning/afternoon Katherine and I went trail running at Saint Edward State Park. Not superlong mileage but the uphill was more intense than Capitol Hill. I'm hoping to get more trail miles in this summer -- I'm slowly increasing the number of friends I have who'd be willing to join me for weekend trail journeys by virtue of my very successful outreach and recruiting program. (It turns out that I am a true believer on several accounts. What was that about cults?) If the weather's right and I can find anyone interested in going with me, maybe I'll venture further afield tomorrow.

Friday, April 29, 2005

A short story.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, someone a couple of levels up the management chain from Kieran at work sent her to a math talk to see if there was anything in it that might be useful. Being the virtuous model employee that she was, Kieran trotted off to the math talk and even showed up a little early. Our mathematically minded heroine was sitting at one side of the room typing away on her laptop waiting for the talk to begin when two gentlemen, fans of Rush and the Seattle Mariners respectively, approached her.

"Are you looking for the design talk?" they asked her politely. "Because I think that's next door!"

She paused, noting that one of them needed to tie his shoelaces. "Actually, math is kind of hard!" she agreed. "Do you want to go shopping instead?"

And then she listened to a talk about search vectors and lived happily ever after.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Heads down, thumbs up.

Remember the game 7 Up that people sometimes played during rainy day recesses in elementary school? Seven kids from the class would go to the front of the room and someone would yell, "Heads down, thumbs up!" Everyone else would put their heads down and cover their eyes (or pretend to cover their eyes) and prop one hand up on the desk in front of them with their thumb in the air. Each of the seven kids at the front of the room would then tap someone different, and if you were the lucky kid to get tapped you put your thumb down. When the seven kids had finished, they'd go back to the front of the room and someone would yell, "Heads up!" and the kids who had been tapped would have to try to guess who'd picked them. Answer right, and you'd get to be one of the seven choosers the next time around.

Lately I'm finding a bunch of workplace analogs for 7 Up. Reorganizations shrouded in secrecy with a few people breaking the rules and peeking. Weird social networks popping up that weren't there two weeks prior and probably won't be there two weeks hence. Shifting relationships. It's not totally random, but then neither is 7 Up.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Sometimes you just need bubble gum.

I swear, it's not my fault.

It's true: I've developed a soft spot for Kylie Minogue. Not the old school Kylie of Aussie soap operas and dalliances with Michael Hutchence, either. Because that would be forgivable. No, it's the unabashed past-her-prime-but-still-churning-out-dance-hits Kylie who's caught me by surprise.

I don't know what to do about it, so I've decided to just embrace it. I haven't reached the point of buying her most recent album, but truth be told it might not be far off. I'm holding the line strong for now, determined to acquire a dozen more indie credentialed albums first. But once I've made it through that list? I'm not sure I can be trusted.

It would be guilty pleasure music, except I don't feel nearly as guilty as I'm supposed to. No Dear Abby can save me now.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Hebrew prepositions and SLA.

Okay, who knows something about Hebrew prepositions?

I have a friend who's a native speaker of Hebrew and an adult second language learner of English. I've noticed some interesting patterns with his preposition use, whereby he'll often choose a preposition that's just slightly off in utterances where there's only one grammatical choice for English. So he'll say things like

1. *He agreed to the other guys.
2. *Everyone rented an apartment at those days.
3. ?*How long have you been in that team?
4. *The students are divided to smaller groups.
5. *Last year she went to a trip with me.
6. *They went there at the old days.

The patterns are very regular, and I'm sure they're known to people working on this sort of issue in SLA. And I've observed similar patterns among other native speakers of Hebrew. Now I'm aware that prepositions are really tough to get right for lots of adult learners of English (and I can say from experience that they're hard for adult learners of other languages too). What I'm wondering is what it is about Hebrew prepositions that produce the particular patterns that I see here. Does Hebrew have fewer prepositions, each of which maps into multiple forms in English? Or are the details of the particular preposition patterns that I observe common to adult learners of English coming from all linguistic backgrounds? Do people who speak other languages natively display other analogous patterns that differ somewhat in the details?

Friday, April 22, 2005

Scalar implicatures.

I'm trying to figure out where I am on a scale from 1 to eccentric.

Everything you've ever said is brilliant.

Lots of unbloggable thoughts about work and life and work-life and obsessive personalities and social graces and candor. Although maybe ultimately not about candor, if it turns out to be unbloggable.

Instead I could talk about the NFL draft, which starts tomorrow and which I will likely not watch much of. I put out a few feelers to see whether anyone wanted to get full season tickets with me for this year and I've been kind of disheartened by the response. Lots of people interested in half season things or games here and there, but I don't feel motivated enough to organize everyone into some kind of schedule. The casualty of making friends with mainly arty bookish nerds and computer dorks. Taxonomy aside.

I started with football and ended up with lack of social motivation. It's amazing how much of my social energy is going into work and work relationships right now. Or maybe not amazing. I tend to get into stuff. I'm ending this week feeling both good about work things and wiped out by them; drama plus sleep deprivation plus constant engagement with people plus actual productivity equals the end of most weeks these days. This week emphasis on the sleep deprivation.

I'm thinking that what I need to do is have a party. No, really. And/or see who wants to go trail running with me tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Weighing in on the pop culture taxonifier taxonomy.

Indie pop versus power pop versus garage rock versus punk rock. Comedy versus drama versus dramedy. Versus reality tv. Reality tv versus reality. Even more relevantly: Nerd versus geek. Nerd versus geek versus dork. Nerd versus geek versus dork versus TV detective on a bicycle. Forget your old categories and and domains of the categorizable. The fact is that anyone worth her hipster salt is taxonifying these days, and taxonifying good.

If it's worth thinking about, then it's worth thinking about stuffed into little boxes and measured up against other things. Finding the edges of types. Exploring whether the taxonomy of types obviates the need for or relevance of types in the first place.

It's kind of the anti-post-modernist movement. In a way it's a return back to the old-school naturalist way of thinking about things, looking at what's observed and finding the limits of its identity. It's just that the domain of application crosses over into the completely mundane: cartoonish family-in-another-time-and-place shows (The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Little House on the Prairie, Lost) take on a significance of their own right up against species, genus, and the like. We categorize not because the items are important but because categorization itself is interesting; we categorize because we can.

On the nerd versus geek versus dork categories: I fit all three.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Paradise found.

With the second season of Arrested Development now drawn to a close, I'm wondering what the geniuses at FOX will come up with to fill the void in my life. It's sad, really. Not that the absence of a Jason Bateman show can leave a void in my life, because that makes perfect sense (after all, it's also a David Cross show). But rather that by all reports the thing to fill that void will be Paradise Hotel 2. I know, because my good friendster Dave Kerpen aka the charmingly dorkiest PH denizen of all time, where "all time" means "on the first season of Paradise Hotel, posted it on his website:

On the bright side, my sister's going to have something to do in St. Louis!

Actually, this is one of those rare life events that only has bright sides. Well, there might be one drawback: the only thing that could make Paradise Hotel any better is if they'd cast someone I know. Hey, it could happen. It happened on The Apprentice! I mean, as long as you count the person I met for half an hour at interview training at work after she'd quit the show. That's someone I know, right? If I could nominate anyone, it would be TV detective. If you're not familiar with the genius concept behind Paradise Hotel, it goes like this: a dozen or so vaguely attractive but not too attractive and unintelligent but not too unintelligent twenty-somethings spend the summer living at a hotel in paradise (get it? get it? apparently "paradise" means "Mexico"), changing roommates every week and rotating one cast member out and a new one in, decided according to some weird metric of how well people get along with their peers and America voting (cf. Dave Kerpen above). Their main assignments are to wear bathing suits and drink copiously from the vast stores of free alcohol at their disposal, all the while plotting to win the game. What is the game, you ask?

Nobody knows!

And therein, my friends, rests the beauty of Paradise Hotel. Audience and cast alike are so far from knowing what the game entails that FOX was able to arbitrarily extend the show several weeks a couple of summers ago in response to good ratings.

Basically, it's awesome.

This better not just be some disreputable rumor, cruelly torturing me with woulda coulda shoulda promises of paradise to come.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Reflections on life inspired by masa harina.

I don't mean to be awake. For once I think maybe I got too much sleep this weekend, and now I'm sitting here without my contacts eating leftovers because it's too early to reasonably go running and head in to work. Chris made braised pork tacos with salsa verde, green rice, and Oaxacan shrimp cocktail for dinner last night for us and all our neighbors. I helped make the tortillas. The man can cook. Let the record show that I am marrying well.

If I have one piece of advice for you, it's don't try to type a blog entry without your contact lenses in.

If I have another, it's make sure to marry a man who knows how to braise a piece of meat until it's falling apart.

I feel myself becoming just like my parents only more random. In the non-mathematical, colloquial sense of random. Possibly also in the mathematical sense.

I woke up thinking about colors and the emotional states they've come to represent. I know what it means to be blue, (sad), green (jealous), red (angry), and yellow (cowardly). Seondary colors get relatively short emotional shrift; I don't know what it means to be orange or purple. There's a colorless green ideas sleep furiously comment to be made in here somewhere.

I bet I'm spilling crumbs all over the couch.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

House of many colors. Colours. Colors.

Today we did all the stuff we've been meaning to get around to for some time: ordered wedding invitations, finished registering, and went back to Vios for a late lunch. I want my house to look like that place, I swear it. A good place to eat before going shopping for household goods. Or interior design strategies.

Why is it that invitations that count as formal -- or any writing that counts as formal, for that matter -- typically use British spelling? What is it about the extra u in honor/honour and favor/favour that makes people feel erudite, or like dressing up? Well, I'm not having it.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Middle ground between the equinox and the solstice.

It's been a long week.

Not over yet: wedding stuff plus working this weekend means that this week will blend into next week without much of a break. I'm feeling kind of low-energy and I'm looking for the motivation to go see the bands I want to see tonight (The Turn-Ons, Army Navy, The Republic). All I actually feel like doing tonight is staying in and having some down-time and finishing Longitude. As a preamble to whatever other activity, Chris and I ordered a ton of sushi from I Love Sushi and will devour it shortly. Nothing says energy like fatty tuna.

Is it summer yet?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


So I was watching one of last week's episodes of The Daily Show on TiVo and there was a segment on some of the dorkerrific activities that are going on in anticipation of the next installment of the Star Wars universe. Forget Anakin, Luke, or C3PO. I'm here to talk about Yoda.

One of the toys that's being released as part of the movie PR extravaganza is a talking Yoda doll, famous fronting constructions and all. Yoda says stuff like:

Strong in you the force is.*
A cheap publicity stunt I am.**
His creativity George Lucas has lost.***

It seems like someone on a blog somewhere should explain how Yoda-speak differs from so-called topicalization constructions that happen all the time in spoken English. Stuff like:

His creativity he's lost, but George Lucas's bank accounts are doing just fine.****
Leia he likes, but Luke he can't stand.*****
A cheap date I'm not, but a cheap publicity stunt? Sure thing.******

You know, for all the surfers of the blogosphere whose dorky tendencies are composed in just the right overlapping ways. Which I have to think includes many readers of this very blog.

So Yoda-speak isn't the same as English topicalization, whether we're talking about discourse conditions or even about straight up syntax. But I have to think that whoever came up with Yoda-speak was thinking in some small way about topicalization constructions. Maybe s/he had a Jewish grandmother; Yiddish English allows topicalizations more freely than Standard English.

Either way, what we got out of it is a wrinkled green guy who talks funny. But not as funny as Jon Stewart thinks.

*,**,*** May or may not be actual quotes from talking doll.
****,*****,****** May or may not be actual quotes from spoken English.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Work-related snack incident.

Have you seen The Office? The British version, not the recent American one with Steve Carrell. Although either works in this case.

So last weekend I go away to New Orleans. I leave my co-worker with our The Office DVDs. And what do I get for it?

I come back from a meeting this afternoon to find in place of my computer mouse a quivering mass of jello. Orange jello! With another mouse suspended in it. Days of premeditation here, people! Hours of effort!

And not only that, my manager was in cahoots!

So we did the only reasonable thing: we tried to regift the jello + mouse to our group director, my manager's manager's manager. Except right at that moment she walked by. So we did the other only reasonable thing: we actually did regift the jello + mouse to her manager. We're wondering if it had totally melted by the time she got back to her office to discover it. Jello doesn't fare too well outside its natural habitat.

I need a helper monkey for a follow-up pranks. Game is on, and I need plausible deniability.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Dinner and a movie.

I'm making a pretty good dinner tonight. I'm making a roasted beet and fingerling potato salad with a white wine vinegar vinaigrette over sauteed beet greens and a smoked gouda and maple smoked ham crustless quiche. This is pretty representative of how we're eating almost every night of the week these days. This Pioneer Organics thing is really working out great. I'm busier than ever with work and running and wedding, but I don't know that I've ever had so much fun cooking. I know I'm repeating myself here, but it's worth it.

I was realizing the other day that with everything else that's been going on, I have fallen woefully behind on my movie viewing. I tell myself that I'm gearing up for SIFF [the Seattle International Film Festival] in a month or two, but the truth is that I'm just behind. I only have a vague sense of what's out right now that I need to see. I'm beginning to think I need to set aside one night a week to go and see movies (one night? time was I'd be seeing stuff two or even three times a week!). Someone's bound to tell me what I need to see, because I just don't know.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Vote early, vote often.

Be the seventeenth caller and win two round-trip tickets to the Hall and Oates concert venue of your choice! Ready, go!

So I'm working on collecting a list of music that we want for the wedding so I can acquire whatever we don't have with plenty of time to give it to Karthik. The lines are now open for requests. What music can we simply not live without?

Friday, April 08, 2005

A relay for Karen Grassle.

I'd like to run this race:

If I can find some other people to take me up on it. It looks like a pretty fun, kicked back relay.

I feel like I need to invoke Karen Grassle in another post. It's amazing how many people are finding this page by google-stalking the woman. It turns out that she's not an Internet celebrity. I intend to change that.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

On Saul Bellow.

I've always been a voracious reader, but Saul Bellow is one of those authors, maybe the author, who taught me to read. Like Bellow himself, I started with Dangling Man, beginning at the beginning with a book that later read like his Notes From Underground, an outline of things to come. Introducing the peculiarly Bellow variety of self-loathing, misogyny, passion, and impatience for the mundane. Except it turned out, as I read more, not to be peculiarly Bellow. It's peculiarly the mark of a whole collection of writers of a certain generation and upbringing: Chaim Potok, who later taught me in college, and who wasn't the best writer of the group but who might have been the greatest human; Isaac Bashevis Singer, who was different from the others in that he could actually write for children; Allen Bloom, who maybe should have written more fiction; Philip Roth, who may be the most similar but who, American Pastoral aside, isn't a fraction as good. The one who might have been as talented but who didn't produce nearly the body of work was Ralph Ellison, who comes from a different tradition of alienation but whose Invisible Man nevertheless patterns with the rest. Among others, too, Bellow, warts and all, was the best.

More than any other author Bellow was the one who got me to consider enduring other literature majors to major in literature. I ended up making different choices, but it was despite More Die of Heartbreak, which I'm now determined to reread.

He was a member of the ominous-sounding University of Chicago Committee on Social Thought. He won the Nobel Prize. But mostly, to me, he was the guy I started reading in high school and never stopped. We've lost an American icon, an icon of literature, and I've lost an icon of my adolescence.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

For the educationally minded.

From the Language Log a few posts back:

On Scrabble, sort of, and the socioeconomics of school test scores, mainly. And more comments to follow, probably.

The road to hell is paved with fried oysters.

So New Orleans is the kind of place you should go every three or four years. You should plan to spend a long weekend or four or five days. You should plan to eat and drink and eat a lot and leave feeling like your liver is turning into foie gras but manage to depart just before that feeling overtakes you and leaves you feeling repulsive. You should go to Elizabeth's for breakfast and Jacques-Imo's for dinner. Although it is blasphemous to say so, you should skip Commander's Palace. You should walk by the river and listen to music and go to Bourbon Street once for the spectacle and then give it a miss and frequent bars uptown or in the Faubourg Marigny instead.

New Orleans is a peculiar place. It's the South and it's not the South. It's the South, but it's Catholic. It's Catholic, and eating seafood every day including Friday is practically the law. Or it should be. My co-worker today described New Orleans as the opposite of California. That's the right way to think of it. It's a different kind of mellow. New Orleans represents a long, slow descent into hedonism that you have no choice but to jump into head-first if you're there for only a few days. Which probably isn't the right way to do it. But do it any other way, and you're back to that foie gras feeling.

You'll have the best breakfast you've ever eaten at Elizabeth's. Rum-soaked French toast with loads of strawberries and clotted cream. Pecan-crusted praline bacon. Eggs florentine with ham and the richest hollandaise I've ever tasted. Cheese grits and at least four varieties of pork-derived breakfast meat. Fried oysters. Fried oysters go with everything at every meal. Steak and fried oysters. Eggs and fried oysters. Dinner salad and fried oysters. And thank heavens for the po' boy sandwich with fried oysters. If a better, more perfect food exists, you're not sure what it might be.

You might go on a swamp tour (disappointing when the weather's been cold and the alligators lethargic, and when the guys giving the tour aren't actually speaking Cajun French with each other, but fun nonetheless). And because you have the car for the afternoon you might drive on to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi to look at still water protected by islands and ridiculous mansions that overlook it. You'll reflect that some of them are beautiful houses. In general around the South you'll see two kinds of homes: the big, imposing, beautiful and sometimes ostentatious, and the five hundred square footer that the real estate agent might charitably describe as a fixer-upper. It needs a new roof, a paint job, a new foundation. New Orleans and the area around New Orleans is the land that the middle class forgot.

Monday, April 04, 2005

And I went to Mississippi, too.

Tired. Returned. Not feeling like going to work tomorrow.

New Orleans was great. The books I read en route were great. I have a lot to blog about, including but probably not limited to:

*general musings on New Orleans and the South
*food and drink
*the Dava-Sobel-edited anthology of American science writing
*more general musings on New Orleans and the South
*writing and not writing

I couldn't bring myself to log in much from New Orleans, both because I didn't know how to log in without checking work e-mail and because frankly the hotel's wireless network was a little erratic. I'll try to get to all this in the days ahead, because I have quite a bit to say.