Thursday, September 29, 2005

Dear Abby, here are my issues.

Last night Simone and I went to see Grizzly Man. I love the honesty of this movie. I love the editorializing. Documentaries, and for that matter journalism in all its forms, generally purport to be objective without really being so. This one doesn't even purport to be objective. Werner Herzog narrates and is really upfront about his feelings about the material he's presenting. I figure if there's a bias, it's nice to know that more or less going in.

Imagine if people did this all the time. Here's my opinion, but of course you need to know before you make up your own mind that I'm against the death penalty / I'm new to this area / I think that nature is a vast nihilist abyss built on predator-prey relationships / I don't really like you. Instead of pretending to talk in newspaper articles people would talk in editorials. It'd be great. If when you met people and started interacting with them for real, they came with a top fifty list of their neuroses or strongly held opinions and you could swap lists and go from there. Hi, these are my preoccupations and long-held grudges. What are yours? Nice to meet you. I'm pretty sure I could write great lists for myself and hundreds of my closest friends, and chances are I'd be right at least once.

So I'd recommend the movie. Amazing what a little passion and a lot of lunacy can produce.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Dissidence in three easy steps.

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone that has gone on just slightly too long, where you're feeling like okay, that was great and all, now let me get on with my life and move on to the things I'd really rather be doing/work I'd rather be doing/people I'd rather be talking to/whatever, but your interlocutor has no idea and continues blathering along like it's some kind of favor to you? And secretly you hate that person even if you don't really hate that person, even if that person is as a rule the most interesting conversationalist you know, always reliably clever, opinionated, and/or charming, but unfortunately also reliably voluable in the extreme. And just when you think you're done and you're wrapping things up and doing the sort of verbal closure thing that people do when they're done with a conversation -- okay, talk to you soon! well, have good night! -- things will start up again with some topic calling some other topic to mind and the whole conversation is self-indulgent in the worst way, because it's not your own self that you're indulging but rather the self of this other basically likeable but ultimately kind of annoying other person.

And then you think shit, I wonder how many people are saying that about me and my conversation, and then you scamper around inasmuch as anyone can really be said to virtually scamper and check all the blogs of everyone that you know.

Monday, September 26, 2005

For d and others.

PSA: Judd Apatow is blogging for slate this week:

Dr. Know(-it-all).

I've been thinking lately about what counts as intellectual property, and who owns the stuff I think. What I can post on a public blog is limited by NDAs, corporate ownership and patents, all things proprietary. At least when it comes to most of the things I spend my day thinking about these days: machine translation, language policy, linguistic APIs, other aspects of internationalization and software design. I spend much of my time engaged in conversations about these things with smart people from a variety of backgrounds, but I can't post my most fundamental thoughts here or share them with people who haven't signed an NDA. This blog is linked from the Language Log, but only one in very many posts concerns linguistics as such, even though a lot of what I'll be doing this year is as or more interesting linguistically than what I did through much of graduate school.

What was it like in academia? I could post or talk about anything I wanted, at any time. Quite enviable, in some ways. Apparent total openness of expression. On the other hand, I spent most of my time talking to people who shared my viewpoint. If not in specific instances, then at least in terms of the framework for discussion. I talked to people in my department, at my university. Maybe sometimes to people in other departments at other universities. And you know, expression was rarely truly open. The rules were just less formalized.

Some of my job now involves collaborating with people in academia, and I've been considering the different communication styles used in the two arenas where I have spent time professionally. I recently found a document that I wrote shortly after starting work at Microsoft, a little over a year ago. I look at it now and see that it's hopelessly academic. A year ago I couldn't have told you what it meant to be hopelessly academic. Now I can, and it means real things in terms of discourse analysis. I could probably write an academic paper about it.

On the other hand, now I talk about "different communication styles" and having "spent time professionally." Which marks me in a whole different way.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

A week of hibernation.

So here's the thing. It's not that I can't fit more in than I do, because every time something comes up I find a way to squeeze it in. But I'm starting to realize that I don't have enough time. I want to read, see movies, run, study Italian, organize our apartment, go out with friends, stay in without friends, talk to people who live far away, write, listen to music, spend my weekends traveling. I have too many interests and not enough time. And so every time I choose to do anything, I'm becoming keenly aware that the choice is made at the expense of something else.

I don't see a real way out of it, and I have the sense that it only gets worse as people get older. Because right now other than work and basic life, I have no actual responsibilities making claims on my time. What happens if we have kids? Something probably gives, and to greater or lesser degrees, it's probably the stuff on the above list. I'll always be running, but will I always go see bands?

It's making me more impatient with spending time in ways that don't feel like something I have to or want to do. I'm less willing to spend leisure time on bad books, bad movies, bad meals, annoying people, because opportunities for leisure time arise far less often than they used to. It's the old conundrum. When I was a student, I had time but no money; now I have money but no time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bait and switch.

One thing I liked about Barbara Ehrenreich's new book better than the last one is that it's about people I know. Chances are that if you're in her readership, you know someone who's spent too long looking for a job after having been laid off, changed industries, or had a startup fail. Nickel and Dimed is successful because it highlights a recognized problem; Bait and Switch is interesting because it highlights a problem that is recognized on an individual basis but not on a societal one.

She spoke at Microsoft earlier in the week and one thing that struck me was the barrage of questions asking whether she had observed patterns in the downsized job-seekers she'd encountered in the course of researching her book. Not one but several people asked if she'd noticed them being of "lesser merit" than their employed cohort; whether they had made less effective use of networking and established industry contacts; whether she'd found them to be "lazy" or "unmotivated." Her consistent answer in the talk as well as in the book was no, the big commonality they shared was simply having been laid off. But the questions persisted. Surely there must be something, some pattern she could isolate, some generalization that could be clearly applied to assure the question-asker than he, in fact, would be immune from corporate restructuring.

The book is worth reading, but it's not going to galvanize the call to organization among the unemployed and what she calls anxiously employed that she urges. We're also not going to end up with welfare and unemployment benefits comparable to those seen in more heavily socialized European countries. Universal health care, though, is inevitable. Not with the currently Congress and administration, but at some point.

Monday, September 19, 2005

In Hanover, no one can hear you scream.

I've just discovered that I haven't been linking to Josh's new blog, so I've added it to the sidebar. If you've ever been interested in rural college towns with high rates of incipient alcoholism, this is just the blog for you!

What movie were you in, again?

I have too much to write about: finished Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Bait and Switch, and went to see her speak at Microsoft this afternoon; went to LA this weekend to hang out with Meri post-interviews; working on a new article about women in the tech industry. I'll start with LA.

For one thing, it turns out that every LA pick-up artist wants to know if you've acted, assuming you're a woman with a pulse. What movie were you in, again? Because you must have been in that movie I saw. You know, that one with the guy.

Meri and I had a great time cavorting around Santa Monica and eating lots of Mexican food. It turns out that the Border Grill is not overrated. Best carnitas of my life, and more impressively, best margaritas of my life as well. And that was just one meal! We also visited El Cholo and Don Antonio's, both of which were also well-received. Even the mediocre Italian lunch was better than mediocre, because we managed to meet up with Elsi for the meal. Elsi is looking very academic with her new haircut.

On to Barbara Ehrenreich. I know it's gotten some criticism and I think Nickel and Dimed was better, but I really enjoyed the new one, if only because I know more people affected by the phenomena she describes. I'm going to have to say more detail for the next blog post, but stay tuned.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Sunday night.

This is the first anniversary of 9/11 that hasn't felt as much like 9/11 to me. I don't know if it's because time has passed or because the whole country has been fixated on the more recent disaster in New Orleans and the surrounding area.


I finally saw Broken Flowers this weekend, and although Jim Jarmusch lingers on his posed shots for what feels like an eternity and that's always kind of annoyed me about his movies (all right already, we get the point!), I really liked this film. Bill Murray was good and the supporting cast was great, and even if the shots were lingered on too long, they were beautiful enough for me almost not to mind.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Tacos! Tamales! Margaritas!

This is a perfect Seattle day: a little rain, a lot of gray. After Orlando it is a pleasure. It seems that fall arrived while I was away.

After I got back last night we finally made our way to Fremont to try El Camino, at the recommendation of several people we know. It was good, especially -- and this is unusual for a Mexican restaurant -- the dessert. But it was no La Carta de Oaxaca. In fact, it wasn't even close. It quite respectably takes second place for Mexican in Seattle, though. (But in fairness, I still haven't been to El Puerco Lleron, which many people seem to love.) Next weekend I'm going to LA to hang out with Meredith after her interviews, and I look forward to another meal at El Cholo.

If I were really a good and virtuous person, I would be doing laundry right now.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Play! Frolic! Only not on the grass.

Okay, here's what it is about this place: It's the vacation version of the house with white picket fence and two-car garage. It's vacation boiled down to the essence of Americana in a way that almost every American, and lots of non-Americans with money, will enjoy. Chris described it as being perfectly engineered: architecturally, socially, in every inch of the landscape. In a way that's supposed to feel spontaneous and the opposite of engineered.

I ran around this morning and realized how easy it should have been for me to find this place last night, even without the searchlights.

Josh, I think that my friend Jeff described the Unicode conference as the conference of dorks that even other dorks think is dorky. But truth be told, maybe you're just jealous.

Blame Florida.

Room service stops at 10:30. Whoever heard of that? And I'm too lazy to get my butt over to the somewhat ominously named Pleasure Island for Disneyfied food, so I am sitting in bed eating my leftover almonds. I am ravenous.

Now granted I might have gotten here with plenty of time for snacks if I hadn't gotten horribly lost on my way from the airport, and granted I should have stopped at one of the several supermarkets I passed while being horribly lost, but still and all, I'm cranky.

The Disney resort seems kind of awesome in its spectacleness and kind of terrifying. It scares me. It is replete with searchlights, and somewhere, underneath the suburban glitz, the searchlights are seeking out other dorks who are here for the Unicode conference.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Saturation street.

So last night I met up with Katherine for dinner to catch up and celebrate her new job offer, and I mentioned that I have to go talk at the Unicode conference in Orlando this week, and she asked me if I ever thought I'd end up doing what I'm doing now, and so not for the first time I started thinking about how it happened that I ended up doing what I'm doing as opposed to all the other things that I could be doing, because when I started grad school if you had told me that I'd end up in the software industry I probably would have laughed and laughed. And yet here I am. Going to talk at the Unicode conference and not a professor at some small liberal arts college.

I did a summer research internship in college where the NSF brought in all these cognitive science professors to talk to us about how they ended up doing what they ended up doing, and it seemed like the whole group of them had these incredibly circuitous routes that only made sense when viewed in retrospect. They started off theater majors, astrophysicists, professional gamblers. But there they all were, researching child language acquisition and mulitple personalities and addictive behaviors in porcupines. And I thought: what a weirdo I am. Every step I've taken has been in a straight line.

And yet it turns out that that isn't the case, because here I am.

But the path makes sense in retrospect in a whole bunch of ways. And it should be good, as this year I'm moving towards a couple of interesting linguistic problems. And I don't really miss working in pure formal linguistics.

Except that sometimes, I do.

I feel as though I've learned new ways of thinking about problems I've been thinking about for a while, and I've learned to think about problems that I've never thought about before, and that's good. One of the reasons I left academic linguistics is that I felt that I'd learned everything I could learn about that approach to problem-solving. And the thing is, that's gonna happen with any approach to problem-solving eventually. Saturation not on the material, but on the method. And so maybe it's naive to think that anyone can ever stay in a straight line for very long.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

At least it was pepperoni.

Man fired for eating pizza wins contest:

I'm not sure this really competes with the furniture movers who were fired for fencing with adult sex toys found in a customer's bedroom.