Thursday, November 24, 2005

Living on the edge.

All my life I've mainly been good at being good at what the other people around me are not: I'm the math kid among literature dorks; the queen of the literati among science-y people; the nerd among jocks and the jock among nerds. Pretty much I've found my greatest success at the lines between categories rather than in the categories themselves. When you look at it, that's basically why I went into linguistics; unable to choose between math and language, I didn't.

I find myself thinking about this once again as I consider what it means to be a linguist in the software industry. Now it's really the case that there are few homogenous sets of people who work where I work -- in my group alone, I can think of colleagues with backgrounds in Germanic and history;people with formal training in computer science and people who are wholly self-taught; a one-time biochemist, a former hacker, native speakers of Chinese, Thai, Manchu, Arabic, and Kannada; and that's just in my group alone. One of the things that makes a company successful is its ability to draw on a richly talented group of people from a multiplicity of backgrounds, and I consider myself fortunate to work with what is generally a varied and talented group of people.

And yet.

Nothing makes the group feel more homogenous even despite all of the above than sitting back and thinking about the thing that everyone else has in common: They Are Not Me. This is superficially and uninterestingly true of all of us, but every once in a while something happens to make me notice it even more profoundly. There are groups of formal and computational linguists at Microsoft, but I (intentionally) don't work in those groups, even though I do work with those groups. Most of the time I like the fact that my day-to-day worklife is conducted mostly among people who think about problems in ways different than would occur to me. I like that I have the opportunity to really drive linguistic functionality in the area where I work, that I spend this time thinking in the space that's at the edge of research and product. And when I stop and think about it, about my tendency to work in edge spaces in general, it makes a lot of sense.

Product groups are both what I expected them to be and also not what I expected them to be.

Happy Thanksgiving. I've torpedoed Thanksgiving this year by making Chris put the turkey is way too early, since it's done now and we told people we're not really eating until around 4:30...

Monday, November 21, 2005

Don't even get me started on the butter.

Tonight we did (the first draft of) our Thanksgiving shopping. Considering we didn't leave work until about 8:30, and considering that we went to two stores and are planning to feed legions, and considering everything else that went into the morning, afternoon, and evening, it has turned into one very long day. But it's a very long day in which we purchased a gallon of heavy cream. It's hard to argue with a gallon of heavy cream.

Long post planned for tomorrow/shortly thereafter on linguistics and software, possibly entitled What it means to be a linguist in the software industry, or a sheep in wolf's clothing.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

On maturity.

Yesterday was one of those days that I'm going to look back to late in life as pivotal: unable to find anything I liked at Abercrombie and Fitch (where my best option was a "Do I make you look fat?" t-shirt), I walked next door to Ann Taylor and was overwhelmed with choices. I think this means that I am officially old.

I meant to stay in last night but the combination of guilt trip from Ritchie and promise of Chopstix from Jess got me motivated enough to go out. I ended the evening wishing that I had had exactly one fewer drink and one more piano request accepted. Life is full of these little experiences designed to keep us wanting more.

(What does it mean that Chopstix is what motivates me to go out these days? I think it is the going out version of shopping at Ann Taylor.)

Finally catching up on movies after a long hiatus. In the last three days I've seen A History of Violence (very good, and I've been to the Track n Turf!), Jarhead (it's no American Beauty, but it had its moments, plus the editorial in the November issue of Harper's has me reevaluating somewhat), and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (very good, but any movie adaptation of this book was bound to leave me somewhat disappointed). I guess this is another of those experiences designed to keep me wanting more, since there are another three or four or five things out right now that I feel that I need to see. Given that my current time constraints are forcing me to be a more discriminating consumer than I'd like to be, I'd be grateful for recommendations, pro or con. Capote? Shopgirl? Others?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A sign of the apocalypse.

If you need an inflatable church and really who doesn't, you can get one here:

They also offer an impressive array of other inflatable products (marquees, arches, cans, and bottles, to name a few, plus a whole class called inflatable miniatures) just in case you're an atheist.

Oh, the democratizing of the internet! Where shlubs like me can have a blog that several people seem to hit regularly and shlubs like the inflatable church guys can start a business with just a website and a dream. A dream where you and your friends can acquire an inflatable nightclub for the very reasonable online price of 50,500 euros -- and if that's too expensive or you just don't have very many friends, there's always the inflatable arcadome for the bargain basement steal of 10,508.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The results of the Monday night death slot.

FOX has announced plans to cancel Arrested Development after this season. This is the best mainstream art produced in the US in years. This country is going to hell in a handbasket. I hope people are Brian Austin Green fans, because in comedyland this pretty much leaves you with Joey.*

Went out last night with a bunch of women from work for Chinese food, dead car batteries, drinks, and karaoke. This is making the evening sound a lot less fun than it really was. Number one, you can't go wrong with barley green noodle chow mein with vegetables. Number two, Video Killed the Radio Star both reinforces and cuts across personal and cultural differences in a profound and almost spiritual way.

*In the interest of fairness, I am compelled to point out that the American version of The Office is actually pretty good.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Write me a picture.

The people I like form a superset of the people I really like in much the same way that the people I know form a superset of the people I really know.

On a scale of one to math, my current job is somewhere around the period right after lunch.

But wait, because those things are connected.

I am not a visual person. Words do more for me than pictures do, which makes me 1/1000 of someone else. I want to like pictures, I want to be good at pictures, I want not to navigate like an ant when I go places. I want to think in maps. What great books and great paintings can do for me makes the two appear totally disconnected on the artistic spectrum. Howard Gardner would call me a verbal, linear-sequential learner.

I started down this line thinking about a friend of mine who has no temper for reading but seemingly boundless patience for taking and manipulating photos, and I wonder how we have conversations at all. And it occurred to me: no one in my family is visual like that. I am totally predictable progeny.

Chris just interrupted me to show me pictures of outrageous jewelry and now I forget where I was going with all this, but the interruption makes a better ending anyway.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

No, actually, we're still in Kansas.

How is this even possible in 2005?

I don't know, but decisions like this in 2005 make it equally possible in 2010, 2020, and 2050. And that to me is the really scary part: the willful disregard of natural theories for supernatural fairy tales offers no scope for learning or progress, ever. You know, if you have some other well-considered theory that offers more empirical coverage, great. That's what science is about. Rejecting a theory for a myth? Rejecting a theory for a myth and calling yourself an educator? It's a fiasco of public disservice.


Ben got confirmation today that our Hood to Coast registration for next summer went through! I was hoping we'd get a slot, but given the demand for the race, I wasn't really expecting stuff to work out. We had so much fun when we ran with Ben's then-company a couple of summers ago that I've been hoping for another chance to run the thing.

For those of you who don't know, Hood to Coast is a continuous 200 mile relay race where each of 12 teammates runs three legs ranging from 3-8 miles in length. It makes for amazing camraderie of running, sleep deprivation, and ensuing bodily functions. I was more wiped out after finishing HtC than I was after finishing a marathon a month or two later, and it was worth every step. This year I think we'll make sure to include volunteer drivers in each of the two vans so that we don't get stuck with runners also having to drive the legs they're not running. Seriously, this race was one of the most fun weekends I've ever had, and that was with all strangers apart from Ben. I can't wait to repeat it with some people I actually know.

This was a good piece of news with which to end an up-and-down kind of day.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

An index into my weekend.

Just got back from Puzzlehunt. I am wiped. But mostly good wiped. This hunt was hosted by first-time organizers Everyday Heroes and despite some of the rough edges, they did a really good job. We did better than we've ever done before, finishing (I think) 11th out of 62 exceedingly puzzly teams. (We were hoping for top ten, and we were in the top ten for most of the event, but we were outnudged right at the the end.) Mario was particularly diehard this year even for Mario, flying in Friday night and back home just a couple of hours ago in time for some career-defining exam he has to take tomorrow morning. We had a great group this year, a really nice mix of skills and solving styles. I think it's the best group we've had since we started playing a few years ago, and I was also very excited that all my recent practice with cryptic crosswords really paid off. I was able to crank through puzzles containing cryptics much faster than I could last year.

A software company that could figure out how to make everyday life seem like Puzzlehunt life would be very successful, ecxept for the sleeplessness part.

The only downside was that I didn't get to hang out with Kara while she was in town this weekend. Alas, we need to get to Portland for a weekend soon.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Cryptic chickpeas.

Puzzlehunt is coming up this weekend! The ninth overall and the third for our team. With any luck we can break 13th place this time around. I think Brett just might be our secret weapon.

But just in case he isn't, Chris and I spent an inordinate amount of time in our travels a couple of weeks ago working on cryptic crosswords. (Dorkiest honeymoon ever! But hey, we had long flights.) I started thinking about what it takes to make a good puzzle, and I'm more relieved than ever that we're the kind of team looking to break the top ten rather than the kind of team who really stands a chance at winning. Putting a hunt together must be brutal.

In other news, Jess and I are talking about organizing some kind of falafel-making attempt. I've tried twice and never produced anything half as good as I can buy for $3. Any pointers from the experienced? (And no, "Shell out the $3" doesn't count.)