Sunday, February 26, 2006

Iterating on the already.

I am feeling kind of scattered. I have too many topics in my head to keep track of: interesting problems at work, uninteresting problems at work, interesting but annoying problems at work, the end of our basketball season, getting ready to move, making my annual round of doctors' appointments. Plus other stuff, when I have a moment to remember what it is. So right now I'm feeling pulled in a lot of directions. By the time a particular issue has a chance to take central precedence, there are three more things in the queue demanding attention. It is making me alternately invigorated and cranky. The interesting stuff is great, the uninteresting is clutter, the interesting but annoying is somewhere in the middle.


Sunday, February 19, 2006


I finished reading 1776 (David McCullough) this morning. It has taken me frustratingly long to get through it because of everything else going on, but it was a great read.

My knowledge of history is weaker than I would like it to be -- it's one of those subjects that I was rarely taught well in school and about which I had only moderate motivation to pursue myself, and as a result I only know a fraction of the things I think I probably should. The big reason I liked this book is not only because I learned a lot of information I hadn't already known, but also that it was written in such a way that I think I am likely to remember it. I now have real stories to attach to the phrases I vaguely remember from school (e.g. guns of Ticonderoga), I know why and when Washington's army was encamped a mile or two from my high school, and I know what happened at the Siege of Boston.

The book is relevant to some of our current military conflicts as well. Like a lot of people we're fighting around the world, we as an army were untrained; had serious shortages of weapons and ammunition and often resorted to stuff made at home from whatever happened to be around (broom handles, rakes, etc.); were often wthout adequate clothing and shoes; used our greater knowledge of the landscape to our advantage; and most of all, had political and ideological motivation so strong that we managed to turn all our limitations into military advantage despite conventional wisdom about conflict and battle. Is it possible to overcome a force like that militarily?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Valentine's Day reflection for nerds.

Chris said to me this morning that he thinks linguists are fighting a losing battle.

I asked what he meant.

It turns out he was referring to a few recent posts on dedicated to discussing the minutiae of some overheard/seen-in-print construction, such as "I'm feeling all Olympic-y." His observation was that language users innovate faster than linguists' ability to track and classify the innovations. And you know, that's true. For every construction that someone happens to observe, how many more are there that people fail to notice? Amd multiply that over the world's languages and the problem gets very big very fast.

So this started me asking him what battle he thinks linguists are fighting. Because in fact linguistics isn't much different from physics, or chemistry, or any other science in this regard: the world of observable phenomena is bigger than scientists have the resources to observe. But that makes you wonder: is the point of science to observe everything that can be observed? I really don't think that it is.

I think the point of science is to take a consistent data set and explain it. You get new data, you change your explanation. But so as long as established principles are respected in the way some newly observed phenomenon behaves, that that newly observed piece of data really doesn't make a difference. Once it gets to a certain point, science looks for counterexamples, not for examples.

So if the battle of linguists is to explain the principles governing language structure and use, then it's perfectly okay that language changes faster than we can keep up with the changes. But so long as the principles guiding change consistently apply -- and unless we're talking on an evolutionary timescale here, I think the field has more or less decided that they do -- then no individual change matters.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Bouncing here and there and everywhere! High adventure that's beyond compare!

I signed up for too much stuff this weekend. By which I mean that I'm racing this morning and I'm interviewing prospective Penn students this afternoon and I'm working after that. And yesterday we had a basketball game that wasn't, since the other team for some mysterious reason never bothered to show up, so we ended up scrimmaging for an hour. It was one of those practices where everything went right, which was nice for the girls since their parents were there to watch, and which was nice for Hilary and me because the last practice was as Hilary put it like an episode of The Gong Show. And then last night was Wayne and Darlene's housewarming party and suddenly whoosh! The weekend is pretty much full.

It was nice to go out last night. As I was getting dressed I was reflecting that it's been too long since I've properly gone out with my friends. Maybe my last several months of overworked antisocial attitudes are drawing to a close. But ask again next weekend.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Godfathers had it right.

It is not yet 9 in the morning and I have already had three meetings. One of these nights I will sleep. It just won't be tonight.

These days I am having fewer adventures in slow twitch than I would really like, except insofar as those adventures pertain to work. This weekend I somehow signed up to both race and interview kids for Penn. And the rest of this weekend has a pretty full social calendar as well. So one of these nights I will sleep, but it may not be this weekend.

But while we're on the topic of interviews: I need to think of fun questions for the wannabe Quakers. Something that won't have them reporting their GPA and the littany of extracurricular activities. Chris said maybe he ought to give them dev interview questions. On the bright side, if they do well we could just hire them instead of sending them off to college.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Ducks in a row.

I have been remiss in posting. I have Oscar comments. I have 1776 comments. But mostly I have house-purchasing comments. Because yes, we have taken the plunge.

We are very excited. Closing is on March 31. Bring on the domesticity.