Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Of sushi and rum-based cocktails.

At the end of every month our group director takes everyone with a birthday that month out to lunch at the restaurant of collective choice. A a few of us rallied for a pretty good sushi place on the eastside, which turned out to be a good choice. Two of the party had never tried sushi before and one of them started with uni with quail egg, which is pretty much the scariest place to begin. One of the two asked me why sushi was served with rice, i.e. why we have sushi instead of just sashimi. My hunch is that something about the way the rice is sweet/vinegar accentuates the flavor of the fish, but does anyone know for sure? I need to remind myself to ask Chris.

I've been in the current instantiation of my job for about three months now. I'm both enjoying it and really ready for a vacation, even a short one. I told Cathy I'd be happy to research Cajun French enablement if Microsoft wanted to fund my trip, but surprisingly she wasn't ready to sign up for that.

Is there a better rum cocktail than the hurricane? Other than the mojito, I mean.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Crawfish, shrimp, po' boys, oh my!

Researching lunch dives in New Orleans. I am unbelievably psyched. I'm drooling already.

I'm also hoping the other people we're traveling with are as interested as I am in doing a swamp tour. I'm the only one of our traveling party who's been before, but I am eager to go again. Both for the alligators and for the Cajun French.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Next step: sticker removal.

I wasn't in a sorority. I never even considered rushing. I didn't know a lot about the Greek system when I started college except for knowing that it wasn't for me.

So I finished this Alexandra Robbins book today while working my way through the piles of laundry that we've let accumulate (hey, it's a quick read). I want to do two things: I want to have my sister read it -- my actual sister, who was in a sorority -- to see what she thinks, and I want to take the Pi Phi sticker that she put on my car one of the summers that she was driving it off as soon as possible, sticky residue or no sticky residue.

I started the book expecting to find all my worst assumptions, based on conversations with friends in sororities, observations of non-friends in sororities, and who knows what else, confirmed. Well, they were. But the funny thing about this book is that, while to me it reads like a stinging indictment, I have a feeling that to people who are already pro-Greek system it's going to come across as at least mildly positive if not as a ringing endorsement. I checked out some of the reader reviews on amazon this afternoon, and that seems to be the case; readers who are now or who have been in the past involved with sororities seem to see the book in a more positive light. The adjective "entertaining" is the most frequently used in these reviews.

For me, though, Robbins paints a picture of sororites as they exist today that is not very flattering. In her book the average sorority girl is attractive but not too attractive, bright but not too bright, wealthy, and desperately insecure. She finishes her book with a list of suggestions for sororities at the national and chapter levels, none of which are likely to be followed. The reader reviews tell all: the things that Robbins (and readers like me) view as destructive for a group of women are evidently not seen that way by the women who get a lot out of sorority life.

I'm glad I read this book. It's not what I'd call eloquent, and I wish Robbins had spent more time explicitly contextualizing her discussion of sororities in light of the wider question of how groups of women treat each other. Sororities on their own don't really matter, but the bigger phenomena that they exemplify really do, and Robbins makes only passing allusion to the broader context. Still, the broader context is there for any reader wishing to see it.

I'm interested in having my sister (or any other smart women I know, especially if they were involved with sororities in college but even if they were not) take a look at the book at some point to tell me what she thinks of it. I bring a very negative view of the Greek system to bear on my reading of the book and I'd like to see what a good reader from another background has to say about it.

Many flavors of Greek.

We finally went to try Vios yesterday for lunch. Vios is a Greek deli-type place that's been open in our neighborhood for a number of months now and about which I've only heard good things, including but not limited to the good things that Ben posted on this very blog. Well, they were all deserved. The restaurant space was awesome -- airy, high ceilings, vibrant colors, huge collection of books about all things Greek. We split the hummus/tsatsiki/baba ghanouj and pita appetizer and then Chris had the lamb souvlaki sandwich with tsatsiki and I had the lamb burger, which was composed of chunks of succulent ground lamb in a pita with tomato marmelade and roasted onion and zucchini slices. It was damn good. Loved the food, loved the space, and will definitely be returning for future Saturday lunches. (They're open for dinner now too, but to me it feels more like a lunch place.) I wish I had a place like that near work for weekdays.

Speaking of Greek, I'm a little more than halfway through Pledged, the Alexandra Robbins book about going undercover with sororities for a year that was a NYT bestseller last year. I have a lot to say about this book, so stay tuned for a lengthy post about it when I'm finished reading it.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Is the information superhighway different on rural route nine?

There are about fifteen or twenty websites that I visit every day. Some of these are the same websites that everyone visits everyday:,, that kind of thing. Others are websites that some less-than-everyone-but-yet-substantial set of people of which I am a member visit every day: sites on the intranet at work, linguistics and cognitive science blogs, online magazines like or, food sites such as But there's also a pretty sizable set of sites that I visit that aren't of general interest in the same way: personal blogs or webpages maintained by friends, mainly. These are both among the most interesting to me and most religiously visited and yet the least useful, strictly speaking. Sites like this I visit just because it's entertaining to do so.

If I extend the circle to include sites that I visit on a weekly rather than on a daily or near-daily basis, then I end up with music sites like or, running sites like or, and occasional book review or personal websites of authors that I like.

At least once I week I google someone other than myself, for work or curiosity. Every day I google language phenomena or paper references for work.

When I put all this together, what I end up with is a web browsing pattern that's about two thirds work and one third not, with the percentage of fluffy personal interest sites slightly higher when browsing patterns are considered on a weekly rather than a daily basis. I'm not counting email at all, which at this point is 90% work for me.

I'm wondering what these patterns look like for other people. If you're reading this, then you're doing at least some amount of fluffy frivolous browsing. But I wonder if your internet use is more work or play. I wonder what the cultural variance is in this, or how other demographic factors come into play: age, sex, location, socioeconomics, native language. I think it's a non-trivial problem.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The good, the bad, and the blogly.

I have been consumed with non-blogly things. There's been a change in the procedure according to which one starts a work blog, so I've had a hold-up there. And a lot of other work besides. And drama. And work drama.

I've been amusing myself on my morning run every day this week by thinking about good linguistically oriented interview questions for non-linguists. I tried one of them out on a couple of my non-linguist co-workers this afternoon. The interview training I went to last week was really useful. Now we just need to decide to hire some people and I'm ready to go.

Getting geared up for the much-vaunted trip to New Orleans, by which I mean that a couple of restaurant reservations are made, hurricanes are in the works, and the travel posse is complete. It's been a while since I've had any sort of vacation, and even though this is just going to be a long weekend, I'm ready. It better not rain on my parade.

Monday, March 21, 2005

I love people! Except when I don't.

I've had the kind of day where I've spent the majority of it talking to people. I spent the last four hours of my workday in conversations that, while they were very useful and productive, have left me feeling pretty wiped out and not much like being social. Low interpersonal energy right now. I love people! But after so many hours of them, I'm tired of them too.

I posted the link to that article about academia and the family yesterday, which started me thinking about why I left academia for a job in industry. Part of it is, as I've posted before, that I like the sense of working on stuff that's meaningful in the sense that it will affect real people. More people will use and benefit from the work I'm doing now than will ever read my dissertation by a factor of, oh, millions. That's pretty cool. But there's also the fact that my current workplace is a great environment for a linguist to participate in, not only because of the scope of influence of the work itself but also because of the breadth of interesting projects and the variety of smart people around and the range in their skill sets and types of intelligence. It reminds me a little of having been an undergrad at Penn -- a research-oriented nerd among very professionally oriented classmates. There's something of the current environment that's the same... there are downsides, but ultimately, I find it more satisfying than being a research-oriented nerd among only other research-oriented nerds. It's harder, in a good, useful way that makes the quality of my work stronger and more rigorous. I'm not afforded the luxury of indecision.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Best idea in wedding planning ever: Cake. Buffet.

Yesterday we went to the place where we're getting our wedding cake ( and sampled a bunch of the things they make. We'd already contracted with them for the design but hadn't selected flavors for cake and icing. We also saw Karthik at Pankaj's birthday gala last night and talked all things DJ. I'm trying not to feel overwhelmed by everything left to be done: flowers, invitations, reception music, registering. Honeymoon planning. Next weekend we're going to knock off invitations and registering at least.

There's an interesting article on Kai von Fintel's semantics blog about academia and the family. You can read it here:

It'll probably be of especial interest to those of you who have been on the academic job market.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

No, seriously.

No, seriously. Verna from The Apprentice was in my interview training today. You know, the one who quit in the first few episodes. And she wasn't a special guest or anything; she was taking interview training with the rest of us shlubs. I didn't out her identity to my interview group until after she'd already left the meeting never to return, which she did when she got a phone call about halfway through.

No, seriously.

This is my greatest brush with reality show royalty since Dave Kerpen from Paradise Hotel accepted my friendster request.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Birth, school, work?


This is a sampling of the languages I've played with at work today. I can't keep up with myself, or with my native speakers (when I can find them). I know I've blogged before about the Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics writing system. I remain a dedicated fan. One of these summers maybe I'll visit Nunavut.

I'm thinking of taking an actual language class, which I haven't done for a while. My options are somewhat limited by what's on offer nearby and what fits my schedule. I was toying with the idea of taking Italian, which I can read and sort of understand but can't really speak. Chris and some other friends are starting a Japanese class in April, but I can't bring myself to commit that far right now, especially since I've been sort of investigating some usability classes as well. Who knew that I'd be back in class-taking mode so quickly after finishing school? But this usability stuff is pretty exciting -- sort of applied cognitive science. Thus far I only know what I've picked up reading on my own and in various projects at work, and I definitely want to learn more. There's a pretty decent program at the UW, so I was thinking I might try to find a class in the spring quarter that fit my schedule.

I can't get out of school mode even when I'm not in school mode. I have a problem.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Policy maker, policy maker, make me a policy!

My graduate program in linguistics focused a lot more on theoretical and computational linguistics than it did on more applied stuff like language policy. I did take a bunch of sociolinguistics, because you don't go to Penn and not take sociolinguistics, but the socio program there emphasizes formal and empirical techniques as much as it's concerned with social factors; I'd say it's even primarily about applying formal and empirical techniques to social factors. In this respect it's different from many other sociolinguistics programs. There were a few more purely applied courses offered on language policy, a couple in my department and more in the ed school, but I never took them.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately because the work I'm doing relies on language policy stuff in a way I should have anticipated but really didn't. One of the exciting/scary/humbling/empowering things about working for a company like Microsoft is that decisions I make at work have an actual impact on language policy at the level of government and standards.

Some of the stuff I've been thinking about posting would really be more appropriate on a work blog, so I'm going to get off my butt and start one sometime this week. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The language instinct.

One of the things about studying how language works for a living is that you quickly discover that everyone has an opinion. Not only that, it's like religion rather than like astrophysics: everyone has an opinion that they consider to be valid. Because everyone speaks some language, everyone thinks that they know how Language works.

In one sense, they're right. In this sense, people know as much as adults as they did as children. People have brains particularly well-equipped for learning language; something about our cognitive architecture is perfectly suited to the learnability problem posed by human languages. The relevant cognitive architecture is not shared by other species, even those most closely related to us. We're significantly better at applying this kind of knowledge when we're children, for reasons that no one completely understands but must have something to do with the way the brain changes as we age. This is the knowledge that allows people to say with relative ease whether a particular sentence is grammatical or not in their language or dialect. (Well, unless that sentence is the convoluted construction of a syntax paper. But that's another topic for another day.)

But this isn't the kind of knowledge people think they're calling upon when they think their kids are being polluted by the poor grammar of the other kids in their kindergarten classroom; when they express vociferous opinions about Ebonics and the Oakland school board resolution, which they may or may not have read; when they talk about Latin being the most logical language of all; or when they argue that Spanish-English bilingual teachers won't be able to teach science effectively. There are more myths about language than there are about UFOs. And they're more pernicious, because fewer people recognize them as myths.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


We ended up finishing off the remaining episodes of Lost that we still had to watch last night, so now we have to wait for a month for the next one just like everyone else. I'm afraid we chose to start watching these a few weeks too soon.

So this Pioneer Organics thing we're doing is working out pretty well so far, two weeks and two boxes in. The produce is varied and reasonably good quality and there's a nice mix of things I'd consider mainstays and stuff we might not seek out on our own. It's definitely causing me to seek out some new recipes. We ate pretty well before, but all in all I think we're eating even better now. And it turns out that I like kumquats.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Multiplication and division.

I've had a couple of conversations this week about the comments Lawrence Summers made some months ago about women and science. The more I talked about it, the more I realized that what bothered me most about the situation wasn't Summers's comments. It was the widespread reaction to them.

So this guy may or may not be a bigot. But given that 1. we know that more men than women have successful careers in math and science and 2. we know that there are real differences between men's and women's brains, it doesn't strike me as totally crazy to suggest that responsible science ought to at least consider neurology when looking for explanations of sociological inequity. I say this as a woman good at both math and science, and as someone aware that there really are significant biases at all levels of math and science education whereby female students have a harder time getting the same attention from teachers than their male counterparts typically command. And those biases need to be addressed, and I don't know how to address them other than by making educators aware of them.

Maybe the fact that more men than women are successful in math and science careers is all sociological. Except... what if it isn't? What if the differences between men's and women's brains account for at least some of the career and activity preferences exhibited by the two sexes?

I don't know the answer, but it seems scientifically irresponsible not to at least consider it.

Except that, in the end, maybe it's sociologically irresponsible to consider it.

On the one hand I'd rather see the president of the world's foremost university advocate for open scientific inquiry that is not slave to political expedience. On the other hand, let's say we discover that yes, on the whole, boys are more inclined to be good at or enjoy math than girls are. What does that really buy us? Does it just buy us a justification for our local fourth grade teacher's tendency, or our graduate professor's tendency, to devote more energy to her male students than she does to her female students? Because if that's the case, that's a disaster.

Whatever the case, reasonable people will evaluate students or job candidates on the merits of their own accomplishments and talents as individuals rather than as members of some group ostensibly predisposed one way or another. That's true now and it's always been true. The problem arises because no one is perfectly reasonable.

I'm interested in what other people have to say about this. I'm frustrated by most of what I've read about it because it seems to miss the point. The point isn't that it was sexist of him to suggest that men might be better than women at math. It's not crazy for the president of a major university to suggest that neurobiological explanations might be worth considering as a partial explanation. The bigger question is what answer might satisfy us. Do we want to learn that yes, there is some neurological basis for the social patterns we see? Boys really are better at math on the whole, and that's why women are underrepresented in the sciences? Or would we rather learn that the differences between men's and women's brains have absolutely nothing to do with the troublesome pattern of underrepresentation, and that we, in 2005, can't seem to get the sociological biases under control that might ultimately rectify the inequity?

What are we looking to hear?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

An interview with Karen Grassle.

We ate dinner tonight at Cafe Lago, which is as good a place as any for a birthday lasagne. Man, I love that place. Better Italian food in Seattle may exist, but I sure haven't found it yet.

So I (finally) finished reading The Know-It-All and I can get on with my life. This was a fun book to read and it took me way too long to read it. The casualty of working too many hours. And feverish frenzies of Lost-watching. And trying to maintain a social life.

Well, maybe not the social life. I've been feeling pretty unsocial lately. I think it has something to do with the changing nature of my job. Now that I have to spend large parts of every day talking to people, spending time in meetings and time not officially in meetings but still somehow socially oriented time, meetings in sheep's clothing... well, I get to the end of the day and I don't feel like seeing people in the same way that I used to. It's not like it was in grad school, or even the year I spent writing between grad school and starting a Real Job, when I'd get to the end of a day feeling like I'd worked hard in solitude for most of my waking hours and I'd want someone to talk to, to process with, to interact or just generally be with. Now that I have to do all that more than I'd anticipated for, well, a living, I'm finding that my time is more preciously my time. And I'm protective of it. I don't want to share it.

It's almost certainly a phase. It always has been before. Long cycles of social and anti-social, not asocial but actively anti-social. I wonder what it looks like all graphed out, my last several years of work and play and work and play. It's cyclic, but how? My feeling is that the periods of anti-social usually last longer than the periods of social, but I wonder if that's really true.

This is sort of different. I'm not feeling anti-social so much as I'm feeling targetedly social. I want to spend time with some people and not others. How I feel surprises me.

I started this off intending to talk about A.J. Jacobs and his book. I have a feeling that he'd get the anti-social more than the social. Anyone who commits to reading all 33,000 pages of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and follows through knows a thing or two about being anti-social. On the other hand, the guy did interview Alex Trebek.

I play it all night long.

No one has played my song yet. Those lame-os!

I have a mandolin.

In honor of my birthday, I'm going to ask every KEXP DJ on the air today to play the Superchunk version of "100,000 Fireflies" until one of them relents.

Then I'm going to go to Sonic Boom and buy the new albums by Math & Physics Club, Ivy, Stars, and maybe Crooked Fingers.

Then I'm going to eat a perfect Minneola tangerine.

Monday, March 07, 2005

My breadbox runneth over.

Artisan bread. For me, maybe the greatest food trend in the last decade. I make my own bread all the time, and I can produce a respectable loaf, but I'm not an artisan and it shows. When I compare my bread to any loaf from Essential, I wonder why I ever make my own.

Overall I think I'm a pretty good cook, but in general I do best with those things requiring very little precision: soups, pasta dishes, rice curries, and so on. I like making things where cooking is intuitive. Baking doesn't come naturally to me, but baking is so precision-oriented that maybe it doesn't really come naturally to anyone. Still, some people are better at it than others, and in this case I'm definitely among the others.

On the bright side, I'm currently polishing off some humblingly good toasted Essential rye bread for breakfast, so not all is lost.

This was a pretty good weekend. Meredith is here, Brett and Ritchie and I had our birthday party, and we're down to just two more episodes of Lost until we're all caught up. And my breadbox is currently full.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The binge model of picking up new TV shows.

Chris and I just finished a feverish frenzy of Lost viewing. Six episodes later, with six more to go until we're caught up, it's somehow one in the morning, and my mind is reeling. And numb.

This is just what Kara said was going to happen, too.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Anonymous academic guy takes charge!

So yesterday was MSR TechFest, an expo where different projects going on at Microsoft Research get showcased for other people in the company. I spent most of my time avoiding the big ooh! ahh! demos, although those that I saw were pretty cool, and focusing more on the linguistics and search technology stuff that's going on. It was nice to connect with some of the theoretical linguists in that part of the world, since a number of them are working on things I used to work on and no longer am. I came away from it with really interesting feelings. On the one hand, some of what I saw was really cool, and I came away having had a lot of great conversations that have good potential to lead to fun, fruitful collaborations, so that was positive. On the other hand, I realized more poignantly than before how totally and completely I'm not doing that particular type of work any longer. It left me feeling mostly good but a little nostalgic.

On another note: my sister arrives tomorrow for her visit this week, a visit that includes both my co-with-Brett-and-Ritchie birthday party and my actual birthday itself. To say nothing of an interesting summer internship interview for her. We're excited! Me, to see my sister, and Chris, to have someone to watch Elimidate with. We're hoping everything works out that she's back in Seattle for the summer again this year.

In other news, a good friend of mine reported today that he'd been offered one of his higher preference academic jobs, so I'll be sure to have several drinks in his honor this weekend. This is definitely Big News. Congratulations, anonymous academic guy!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

They're small, they're citrus, and we're going to have 1/3 lb. of them.

It turns out that I should have reviewed my word lists after all. Brian, the guy from our puzzlehunt team who is now going to be a dear, dear Scrabble friend of mine, turns out to be pretty good. We played two games and finished 1-1. We were both a bit rusty, but I think we're about evenly matched, although I also think that he might improve faster than I do. Especially if I again make the mistake of not eating dinner until after we play when we don't start playing until 7pm. But it was good! I'm happy to have found someone to play against.

Tomorrow we get our first box from Pioneer Organics. I'm pretty pumped. Now I just need to figure out what to do with kumquats.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Four evenings.

So I finally saw Million Dollar Baby on Friday night, just in time for the Oscars. I thought it was pretty good, but not Best Picture good. Assuming The Aviator was the only other real contender, I'd rather have seen The Aviator win. Of the nominees, Sideways was far and away my favorite, the only one of the five nominees that is in my own actual top five movies of the year. But it was pretty clear that it didn't have a shot.

At least the Oscar viewing itself was fun. We had a few friends over for dinner -- we tried some new Thai-ish recipes (including mussels in Thai red curry sauce that were really, really good) -- and between the friends, the food, and TiVo, the evening was a success.

Speaking of TiVo... Chris and I have started making our way through the backlogged episodes of Lost that we've been steadily accumulating over the last several months. We're three episodes in and I'm still not sure what I think, but I'm still watching and becoming more and more eager to see more. Maybe next we'll actually get to the backlog of Deadwood...

Tonight I'm going to play Scrabble against an actual person, one of my first games against a non-computer in months. I feel as though I should have been reviewing word lists in the meantime. That's because I am a nerd.