Friday, December 30, 2005

Anagram of pretty messed up.

We finally watched Word Wars last night. It's like Spellbound only dorkier and less weasel-style, because instead of kids trying to pad their college applications you're talking about adults who obsess about Scrabble instead of finding jobs and families and pasttimes that society would deem worthwhile. As an on-again, off-again member of the NSA myself (National Scrabble Association, duh), I relate. Except that I have a real job.

In related news, I'm nowhere near as good as the people in the documentary.

But I am in awe of their skill. Eric Chaikin chose a good cast of four to profile -- and given the financial woes that they detail in the movie, it makes me wonder whether there was any payoff for the profilees other than slightly greater notoriety outside the circle of die-hard Scrabble dorks. I was interested in how the movie would compare to Stefan Fatsis's book Word Freak. The answer is that I liked both, but the book got me jazzed about Scrabble (and I got a lot better after reading the book, because it motivated me to put in more effort) while the movie sort of scared me away from the game. Other than Brian, who is both about my level and about my intensity, I don't have any real friends I can play Scrabble with. Kitchen table games are no fun but club games kind of aren't either; I want to play against people scoring 400+ points a game, but I want them to not freak out if someone accidentally draws a tile without placing the letter bag above eye level first. I want to use a clock but I'm not so sure about customized Scrabble boards.

I'd like to play in a tournament but three or four days of eight games a day sounds a little insane.

Friends who think I'm nuts about this really ought to watch the movie.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Cinematographic. (I Take. Pictures.)

Saw Memoirs of a Geisha today. I left thinking I liked it. I still think I liked it, but less; it's definitely of the genre loosely identifed as Oscar grab, and it had great actors in big sweeping story arcs and gestures, and some of it certainly looked beautiful. But was it enough? I don't know. It kind of feels like it had all the trappings but was light on substance, somehow. I haven't read the book, but I'd be interested in doing so.

Since I last made a movie post I've also seen King Kong, about which I will only say that I like Peter Jackson but this movie really isn't worth the hype, and Syriana, which so far is my favorite movie this year. I know it hasn't been met with all positive reviews, but everything about it worked for me: the loosely connected storylines organized thematically rather than plotwise; the look and feel and grit of the story; the acting; and above all the screenplay.

Stll up for me from the current crop: Brokeback Moutain, The Squid and the Whale, Munich, Fun With Dick and Jane, plus the few that are officially 2004 but have yet to make it to Seattle. I'm interested in any reviews...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Early morning alphabetics.

Blurgh, it is early. And we were up late. I am waiting for Chris to finish getting ready so we can fly home. We hung out with Meri and Noelle playing games with a laser pointer and spelling and dance parties, things you can only do when you are actually or spiritually eight years old (or hanging out with an eight-year-old).

I forget why or in what context (hey, it's early), but at some point Noelle described something as "a bunch of gibberish." Except she didn't say gibberish. She said gibberish! With a hard g. I asked whether she can learned the word from a book -- we've all had moments, children or adults, when we read a word, mispronounce it in our heads, and then say it with the incorrect pronunciation later on in conversation. But no, she insisted, not from a book, but from her mom. She remembers when, and it was recently.

So I started thinking about it.

She hears gibberish (soft g). She internalizes this as initial g (because she knows g can be soft or hard) and she maybe even asks her mom for clarification (consistent with other recent behavior when she encounters new words, plus otherwise the unmarked assumption is for initial j, not g). Later on she retrieves the word for use, has internalized it as having initial g, and comes up with gibberish (hard g) because hard g is the unmarked form.

Makes sense, except who stores new words by spelling unless the new word is learned in a spelled (i.e. written) form? I've never seen this before, and I don't know how to elicit other cases.

Monday, December 26, 2005

It's like, so last decade.

Many years ago I wrote a seminar paper that I never published on the uses of non-canonical like. You know, it's like the like that's used by teenage girls. I don't know why I never published it, because what I found in my corpus study was not uninteresting: non-canonical like turned out not to be an unconstrained hedge, as I (and many others) had thought before. No, it was a far cry from ums and uhs and their discourse cousins. What I found in the corpus study of hundreds of thousands of words was that non-canonical like was actually pretty tightly syntactically constrained. There were three contexts where it occurred:
  1. Sentence initially: Like, what's going on here?
  2. After a verb, especially a copula: He's like, such a poser.
  3. After a preposition: Give me a pound of, like, black forest ham.
I found thousands of tokens of non-canonical like and they all fell into one of these three categories, with category (2) accounting for by far the largest number (~75%) of tokens. And after I wrote that paper, I spent the next several months listening for further tokens in the speech around me, and sure enough, I found no counterexamples. Use of non-canonical like indeed seemed to obey the constraints outlined above. Of course, as with most similar items in discourse studies, the conditions set out in the study were necessary but not sufficient to trigger the use of non-canonical like; there were plenty of cases where one of these conditions was satisfied but no like occurred. (Cassie Creswell spent a lot of time talking about how to handle this kind of necessary-but-not-sufficient discourse problem in natural language generation in her dissertation. It's worth looking at if you're interested in this kind of thing, and who isn't?)

Anyway, I found myself thinking about non-canonical like again a few months ago, when I overheard the following conversation about an upcoming sale:

RH: Who told you about it? Do you know when it starts?
KF: My mother's, like, mail guy.

This was clearly a different case than the three I'd found in my initial corpus study. I haven't had time to do a detailed follow-up, but I've been paying more attention since overhearing that snippet, and I've started noticing a proliferation of other apparent counterexamples as well:
  1. My mom like doesn't even understand what it's about.
  2. She like can't get it through her head that he's never coming back.
So either I missed some cases in what I thought was an exhaustive corpus study in 1997, or the categories of use have expanded since that time. If I have a little extra time, maybe I'll take another look at a corpus study and see about publishing the results if I find anything interesting.

Either way, I'm not sure who else is looking at this right now, but this seems like a topic ripe for (re?)visiting by some interested student of the syntax-pragmatics interface. :)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

How you doin'?

The last week has been a whirlwind of New Jersey. North Jersey, South Jersey, grandmothers and uncles, brief detours into Philadelphia for other grandmothers and uncles. Lots of good Italian food. Good lord the Italian food. Lasagne, simple pasta, sausage stuffing, cookies and more cookies. Tony Luke's for lunch and roast pork and sharp provolone and greens. Bruschetta and garlic and sugar cookies, almond cookies, chocolate chips and good red wine.

Be that as it may, one week of family, even split between four branches of two families, is enough to have me crying for my sofa in Seattle. For one thing I'm getting shin splints and I need my new running shoes since the midsoles on my current pair -- which worked fantastically well for the first 250 miles -- are shot to hell. I'm still running but it isn't pain-free, and I don't like that.

Living in Seattle I miss the Italian food, but if I moved back here, which by the way I'd never, ever do for a million non-culinary reasons, I'd miss the sushi.

It has been good to see sisters. Meredith is coming back to Seattle the day after we do to spend a week or two before returning to school. It will be an extravaganza of tacos al pastor, since Meri is newly no-longer-vegetarian. I feel her cravings even if she is just starting to notice them; I've been down this road before, for about the same amount of time.

I so need a vacation. The kind of vacation I can take in my own apartment, my own space. Chris and I haven't exchanged Christmas gifts yet since we figured we get back to town closer to Christmas than it was when we took off.

I am disoriented, glutted, shin-sore, and sleep-deprived. And tomorrow we are taking Noelle bowling.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Keeping score.

I had a long talk with a friend at work yesterday afternoon about career, places to take risks and places to (attempt to) fly under the radar, ways of navigating certain personality types, and general approaches to career growth. It was really useful. She brings a good perspective because she's not in my group but knows a lot of the people in my group; does different work from what we do but gets the point of what we do; and finally, knows me well enough to give great feedback. It was the first time I'd gone through a number of scenarios I'm thinking about really end-to-end, and it was the most helpful conversation I've had in this space in a long time.

I used to think that the kind of existential crisis I had when deciding whether to stay in academia was mostly restricted to my friends in academia. I still think that is mostly true. There is something about the particular ego roller coaster of a doctoral program that imposes pretty unique pressures on its participants: the long, open-ended projects with few milestones to measure progress; the all-consuming politics without any real grounding bottom line to keep things in perspective; the poverty line lifestyle when one is generally accustomed to sucess and accomplishment. On the other hand, the academic lifestyle also affords pretty unique joys: the sense of getting to do exactly what you want, when you want, more than in almost any other job; getting to pursue something solely because you think it's cool; and, let's be honest, the smug sense of superiority that most academics allow themselves to feel with respect to other people. It's a weird domain where the highs are really high, the lows are devastating, and everyone drinks a lot.

Most of the existential crises that I see friends go through now are distinct from this. I have friends who are looking for jobs, friends who have jobs but aren't sure they're the right jobs, friends who know what they want but aren't sure how to get there, and friends who don't know what they want but are pretty sure that where they are now is the wrong place. And it's not all about jobs, either. Marriage or no marriage? Kids or no kids? Relationship or no relationship, given the full matrix of four different answers by two people to the two questions above? No, people are still having existential crises. The main difference is that now I know more different kinds of people and it's no longer so easy to generalize across their paths for common, uniting trigger issues.

For a generalist with a multiplicity of interests, there are a huge number of paths that can make you happy. All of those paths also come with misgivings.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Globetrotters United.

So tonight was the first practice for the basketball team I'm coaching this season. Somehow I have ended up with the New York Knicks of fourth and fifth grade girls. No, seriously. These girls are so much further along with their skills than I've seen other groups at the same age it's unbelievable. These girls can play, not to mention it's a great group of kids. By coincidence it turns out that I already knew one of the girls on the team from my days at UCDS. I'm very excited for the season. It will be good for me to have something to spend time on other than work...

... where this was the day of context shifting. It is good to be home by 8:00 for a change.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

How will I keep up on Oscar day?

I've been on a movie binge lately. After going more than a full month without seeing anything (granted it was the month that included our trip to Polynesia, but still), I have now seen eight movies since November 16. From my movie list (yes, I keep a movie list):

11/16/05 A History of Violence
11/17/05 Jarhead
11/18/05 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
11/24/05 Good Night and Good Luck
12/2/05 The Ice Harvest
12/7/05 Pride and Prejudice (2005)
12/8/05 Rent
12/10/05 Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Of these only Rent was worth missing. Best of the bunch was A History of Violence.

Since we just got back from seeing Narnia (summary: Katherine and I liked it; Jeff and Chris thought it was so-so; putting aside the heavy-handed Christian allegory is tough, but worth doing; pretty faithful to the way I envisioned the book), I started looking through my movie list.

I started keeping the list of everything I've seen in theaters (DVDs don't count) in January, 2003. That first year I recorded seeing 90 movies in theaters. Ah, student life.

In 2004 the total fell to 31. This is what starting a job does to you, apparently. (And getting a TiVo?)

So far this year I'm up to 35, with several more occasions that I can think of to come. I'm not going to make it to 90, but I might make it to 40. Suddenly the point of a top ten of the year list seems kind of empty and not ultimately very selective (except insofar as I am pretty careful to pick movies that are likely to be good, with less time to see things). Maybe a top five would be more relevant.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Reality meets FOX specials.

I love the Seattle Times:

Next up: software developers masquerading as panhandlers at work.

Oh, wait.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Locust Walk.

My feeling on Sunday nights is often the same feeling I get when I think about the movie Magnolia.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

And the flashlights! and explosions!

I have become obsessed with the Thin White Duke mix of Royksopp's "What Else Is There?" since hearing it on KEXP a couple of days ago. It turns out that the CD single with the remixes isn't out until January. How is a girl to cope? I think this is going to become one of my instant good mood tracks... but only the remix. I am grateful for the streaming archive on the KEXP website (for another week or two at least).

I am at work. No one else is here. I like it like this. I can play music loud and get stuff done. But this is connected to what I was thinking on my way in earlier today, which topic concerns something like work-life balance except that I don't even know what that means. I've decided that it's generally a code people use to justify spending more time with their kids. I've thought about what it means that I sort of use work life to fill gaps in my personal life and use personal life to fill gaps in my work life, and that even that model doesn't entirely make sense to me because I have a thinner line than usual between work and personal anyway (and I'm married to someone who also does, and who also works where I work, albeit not with me), except that when I think about my friends, who may be unusual by virtue of that status anyway, I don't think most of them are any different. Most of them also don't have kids.

And that's something else again. Right now most of my friends don't have kids. I wonder whether that will still be the case in five years. Statistics would suggest that that will change but I kind of think it won't. And then I think: wait, do I want to have kids? Do I have it in me to be double-mindedly obsessive rather than single-mindedly so? I can't become the kind of person who has to leave work early to take her kids to dancing lessons.

And yet I love kids. I am really excited that I'm going to be coaching again starting in a couple of weeks. Most of my life I've worked with kids in some capacity or other, but I work with them before they grow up and become annoying.

A reasonable person might ask why one has to be obsessive at all, but anyone who knows me has probably suspended reason on this point.

Feeling chilly.

Long time no blog. I've been feeling underinspired lately, I suppose. We went to see The Ice Harvest tonight, which is only appropriate given that it actually snowed here in Seattle yesterday. I hate the snow but liked the movie, which is sort of analogous to how this whole week has gone.

Today (or yesterday by the time I publish this) is Meri's birthday. It's safe to say that her birthday is the highlight of my day.

More soon when I feel less wiped out.