Sunday, October 30, 2005

Unmasking the social impresario.

Lately I've been celebrating the small party. I've mainly been celebrating it in my head, since I've been thinking about small parties more than we've been having them. But when I think about ways that I want to spend time hanging out with people, lately all my thinking is casual, intimate, relaxed. Having people over for dinner. I've been thinking about when we're going to have our not-quite-annual dessert party, and my next clothes-swap party, and how to construct the perfect dinner party. I have less patience for the big blow-out, little interest in the neo-frat party, apathy about events that I was really excited about a year ago and might be excited about again in another few months. Right now what I mainly want is time to read.

And yet I'm an irredeemable social planner. I can't help myself. I'm thinking about recipes for Thanksgiving; what I want to do for birthdays in one, three, eight months; how long we'll be heading east for the holidays and who gets what for Christmas; where our next vacation is going to be. I'm thinking about them all at the same time.

Out with Halloween, on to Thanksgiving...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Colbert Report

Best new TV show this season, that's for sure. We caught up on the new episodes yesterday/today with the days off. It's good now, and it's going to be great when they work out the kinks. Who's watching it? If you're not, you should be.

'Ia orana!

We're back, baby! We rolled into town late Sunday afternoon and have pretty much been loafing around ever since. Back to work for me tomorrow. The trip was amazing. It made me want to move to French Polynesia. Though on the plus side it's nice to be back in a place where I don't need to slather on sunscreen everyday; my skin was nearing open revolt.

Dogs. Bora Bora alone has a human population of 12,000 and a (mostly feral) dog population of 6,000. That's a whole lot of dogs, and as some of you may I know I am moderately phobic when it comes to canines. There are also about 2,500 feral chickens. The set-up made for some interesting running around the one road that encircles Bora Bora. Although I have to admit that what I'd read online before the trip is true: half the dogs are pregnant at any given time, and the other half are male. This is a pretty exhausted population. Still, there are a lot of them, and their numbers are only growing. Otherwise the running was fantastic. I only saw a few other runners while I was there, but encountered lots of friendly people and beautiful views. Friendly people and beautiful views seem to be everywhere in French Polynesia, though.

Other animals. You can't go to French Polynesia without taking real pleasure in the marine life. When we stayed on Bora Bora, which we did for the first several days of our trip, we had an overwater bungalow from which we could jump right off our lanai into the surreally blue waters of the lagoon. Fish everywhere. At various points during the trip we snorkeled with and fed reef sharks and stingrays -- it turns out that stingrays get pretty snuggly and friendly when they think you might have some fish for them. I have some great pictures of Chris being molested by swarms of them. It wasn't the stingrays or sharks that got him, though; it was a tiny little triggerfish that nipped his ankle while he was taking off his snorkel gear in some shallow water at a Taha'a motu. (A motu is one of the small islands around a bigger main island, based on coral and blocking the lagoon from the ocean outside it.) One of my personal highlights was snorkeling in the same water as humpback whales, which often make extended trips inside the lagoon in Moorea. The water was a bit too murky to see anything underwater clearly, since our boat at the time was outside the lagoon and in the ocean proper, but I was only a few meters away from a mother and calf humpback, and it was really damn cool.

Language. Anyone who's known me for any time at all knows that I worked on Tahitian and Tahitian French at some length in my dissertation, which fact had something to do with the location selection for this trip. I was happy that it only took a conversation or two for the rust to come off my French, and I was surprised to hear and see how much Tahitian is used in daily life there, as the French census reports I've encountered have led me to believe otherwise. Tellingly, however, the children we encountered were mostly French-dominant, primarily speaking French to each other rather than Tahitian. I saw several signs with code-switching, things like "fare a ventre" (house (Tah.) for sale (Fr.)) and heard lots of instances of code-switching out and about the islands. The linguistic experience made me a little regretful that I didn't stay in academia and go there to do more fieldwork.

Places. We stayed at the Hotel Bora Bora for several days initially, the first hotel in Bora Bora and recently named the best hotel in the world according to several travel agent surveys. It is deserving of the title. Afterwards we went on the Paul Gauguin cruise, which visited Tahiti, Raiatea, Taha'a, Bora Bora, and Moorea. We've never been on a cruise before and I'm pretty sure we won't go on another one, but I'm glad we did this, as it was a good way to familiarize ourselves with several islands so that we'll know where we want to return in the future. (Bora Bora and Moorea are the standout winners.) We were hoping for a younger, less American demographic and we didn't find that on the cruise. However, we did enjoy the excursions in port quite a bit. In addition to the aforementioned and other snorkeling trips, we also did a 4x4 offroad thing in Bora Bora, kayaked off the shores of Raiatea, and rode a waverunner around Bora Bora, stopping at a little island for the leader to scale a palm tree and get everyone some coconuts and tell us about all the ways the different parts of young and old coconuts are used. In Moorea we rented a crazy skeletal-looking tiny vehicle and drove up to the Belvedere viewpoint and around the rest of the island.

Food. If you have the occasion to travel to Bora Bora, don't leave without visiting Villa Mahana for dinner. It's among the best meals I've ever had. The beef tenderloin with vanilla sauce and gnocchi in cream sauce on the side was a revelation. Everywhere we went we had good food, just about. We're already scheming about getting some good sashimi-grade tuna here and recreating poisson cru, a very sashimi-leaning ceviche with lime juice and coconut milk and a few fruits or vegetables. It's everywhere in French Polynesia, and it's really tasty. The pineapple we ate is unlike any I've had anywhere else -- it was smaller, sweeter, and with an edible core. I already miss it. Chris was practically in rapture over the little bananas, which I think are a different species of banana than the kind we typically get here.

World Series. We had the good fortune of being in Bora Bora during the Hawaiki Nui Va'a, a 6 person team outrigger canoe race with several legs in French Polynesia totaling well over 100km. That's some serious rowing! The race finishes up on Matira Beach, which happens to be where we were staying in Bora Bora, and it's pretty much the local Super Bowl, World Series, and Olympics all rolled into one. A couple of weeks later our flight home happened to be leaving at the same time as the flight that some of the athletes were taking, and the airport was a madhouse. It was awesome. I think all of Papeete was there, singing and crying and laughing and dancing and taking pictures. The rowers were loving every minute of it, hamming it up for the cameras and kissing any girl within striking distance. The rowers all had shell necklaces, given in Tahiti to travelers to tell them to come again. I felt pretty lame with my one tourist shell necklace given to me by my hotel in front of these guys with dozens, hundreds of them. It was loud and chaotic and crazy. I think it may have been the best part of the trip.

I'm sure there's some stuff I'm leaving out. It was a great couple of weeks. I can't wait to go back.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Running fluff and linguistics fluff.

This morning I did this race:

This was the sixth time the race took place and the fourth time I've run it; it turns out that I've been in Seattle a while now, long enough to have stuff that I do every year, stuff that hasn't been around the city that much longer than I have. In any case, it was a fun race as usual. I expect my chiptime will be about the same as my time at the RTC race last summer, about 23:30, or about 7:30 per mile. (Yes, a race that does chiptiming at the finish and at the start, an increasing rarity around these parts.) I'm happy with how I did, but when I get back from vacation I'm going to shake up my training regime some. Once and for all I need to bite the speedwork bullet and get it done. I think I can be significantly faster if I train right.


Other things: Some of you know that Chris and Carlton have been studyng Japanese for almost a year now. It's led to some interesting discussions around our house about syntax, pragmatics, and language acquisition, which topics I haven't worked on in direct contiguity since finishing my dissertation, and most of all about language typology, which I've been thinking about quite a bit lately anyhow because of some things I'm working on.

It's one thing to identify the principles according to which languages vary and to demonstrate that all human languages are in their most essential properties the same, and formal linguistics as a field has been pretty good at that in the last decade or two. It's quite another thing to take some principle according to which language varies and state it elegantly and precisely enough that someone can implement it in software in a way that will produce appropriate, expected behavior for the range of languages that the software must support. It's easy as a formal linguist to be satisfied with a theoretically plausible but ultimately not very practically extensible theory. Computational linguists don't really have that luxury.

That isn't to say that theoretical constructs aren't useful, because they can be. But I can feel the changes in my thinking as I continue to move towards a more computational and somewhat less purely formalist style of thought, largely because of the work I'm going to be spending most of my days doing in the coming several months. A few years ago I was all formalist, not only in the topics I considered but also in the topics I considered worth considering. Now I don't really have that luxury, and I'm glad.

It was interesting hanging out with Elsi in LA and weighing her reactions to various topics that I'm thinking about, even though we didn't have a chance to discuss much linguistics. It served as kind of a placemarker for me, a Platonic form of something (because you don't really get any better at this particular form than Elsi is) that a few years ago I really aspired to be. For that reason it's also a marker of the ways and directions I've shifted -- neither better nor worse, but it's definitely different. And not especially in the ways a formalist, particularly an academic formalist, would expect, but rather in other respects I wouldn't have begun to suspect a few years ago.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

On books and bikinis.

Today I have to buy some stuff for our trip: Tevas, a bathing suit, some toiletries, some reading material. What kind of reading material is appropriate for long flights and tropical vacations? We're talking hours and hours of reading time over the next couple of weeks. And so you have this dilemma: one gigantic Infinite Jest-size tome that will easily take the whole trip but is quite a thing to lug, or several smaller, lighter paperbacks on a variety of topics for a variety of moods? Anf if it's the former, what's the volume that I should bring to sustain me for the whole trip? If it's the latter, should one of them be written in French? I am kind of freaking out because I am realizing that my French is not what it used to be. The first few days of the trip are going to be a rough awakening.

And don't even get me started on finding a bathing suit.

(In Seattle? In October? At all!)


I got a new haircut tonight. I now have loads of layers and bangs (long bangs, but still bangs) for the first time in years. I really like it. It's different enough that it feels really pretty different. Though I must admit that it's not so different that most of the people I hang out with will notice when they see me when we get back from our vacation in a couple of weeks.

Yes, it's finally time for vacation. Off to Tahiti on Tuesday!

Another thing I did tonight was go see the new Wallace and Gromit movie with Chris and Ritchie. I heart Nick Park! It's amazing how much better this stuff is than the purportedly comparable kid movies that generally come out. It looks better, the story is better, and it's definitely cleverer.


We got all our wedding pictures back today. I'm really excited about how they turned out. The albums are beautiful and a lot of the pictures that didn't make it into the albums but that we have digital copies of are even better than the stuff in the albums. If you live in Seattle and you're looking for a great photographer, have we got a guy for you.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


I come across differently than I mean to.

You know how it is -- or maybe you don't, but indulge me -- when you go to a new place or a new group of people and you think, yes, this is it, this is where I change all things I've always wanted to change. You think, new is something that is really new.

And then it's a few weeks/months/years later and you think, nothing is ever really that new.

At heart I'm still the same as I was when I was thirteen. I'm starting to look old(er) and I know more stuff now. I dress marginally better and I behave less shyly. But when you peel back that stuff to my very essence, I still don't know how to say what my very essence is except that it's the same now as it was then.

There's something solidly reassuring about that and something depressing. Oh, the places you'll go! Like the house down the street.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


How ready am I for a vacation? I am a lot ready for a vacation. But first I need a haircut, and possibly the recent Harvey Danger album.

I am racing on Sunday for the first time in a couple of months, after the crush of races this summer. Some day when I'm back to getting enough sleep, I'm going to really bump up my mileage again so that I can get out of this 35mpw rut. I fantasize about doing an ultramarathon, but then I wake up.

So anyway, vacation. I'm counting down the hours. And also planning the next trip, in my head. We're taking candidates for the spring. I will tell you right now that candidates featuring good deals on airfare are likely winners. Mexico? Netherlands? Montreal? Australia?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Food is love.

In the last couple of months a few blogs that I occasionally read have featured posts on the authors' favorite childhood food memories. Reading their memories started me thinking about mine. Neither of my parents is much of a cook, which may be why I learned to cook myself before finishing high school. Not that my early experiments went without incident. I can remember one particular ill-conceived vegetable casserole where as a last-minute flourish I cracked an egg over the entire thing and then stuck it into a 250 degree oven.

My sister doesn't cook much at all now, but she too had her early culinary adventures. Most people who know me know the story of her famous carrot-raisin salad. A dish of raisins and grated carrots -- not too shabby for a three-year-old. Until she told us years later how she managed to grate the carrots: without knife or grater, she made the most of the resources at her disposal, grinding up the carrots in her mouth and spitting them back up in appropriate quantity on each individual salad plate.

I have a few particularly horrendous childhood memories. Given how I have grown to love all things egg as an adult, you'd never guess that I spent many childhood breakfasts locked in stalemate with my parents over the soft-boiled eggs they used to make me eat. But all in all, I had a childhood dominated by good memories of mediocre food.

Bisquik pancakes. No Vermont maple syrup for me, either. Give me the cheap supermarket varieties, thank you very much. From these breakfasts were born my lifelong addictions to carbohydrates and unmitigated sugar. My mom used to make one big pancake rather than several little ones, and to this day it confuses the hell out of me when I get silver dollar pancakes at diners.

Cheese and butter sandwiches. Yep, eating Saturday lunch with my dad was cholesterol central. If it wasn't cheap Mexican fast food on Route 17 on the way home from Saturday school in Ridgewood, it was deli cheese and butter sandwiches at the place in Butler near his office. Rye bread, deli American cheese, slathered with butter -- it was like grilled cheese without the grilled part. And in retrospect it's not clear why he ordered me these, since he himself had Italian sandwiches or pastrami. And yet I ate them, week after week.

Double Stuf Oreos. This is pretty much the grossest thing ever. I can remember coming home from school and grabbing a handful of Double Stuf Oreos and plopping down on my beanbag chair in front of the TV before doing my homework, prying apart the cookie shell from the sugary shortening filling, eating all the cookie shells and then smushing the filling from three or four cookies together into one big ball of crap, rolling it between my hands like Play-Doh and leaving a thin film of grease all over my hands. I saved the best for last, eating the whole fatty, sugary mass in two bites.

It amazes me when I look at Noelle, growing up trying and liking all manner of vegetables, learning to cook herself. The girl likes shellfish, sushi, Thai curries, samosas, cavatelli with broccoli, Italian sausage, shrimp fried rice. When I was eight I was all cheese and butter and Oreos. The food experience she's getting is so much more textured than mine was; she'll try anything once, and she'll articulate just what it is she likes about a flavor or how it could be improved. Fast forward twenty years and think about what her childhood food memories are going to look like. Though maybe in twenty years she'll use Bisquik.

Any good childhood food memories for you?