Friday, April 28, 2006
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Jane Jacobs is an urban planner, activist, and general eclectic thinker. In the early 60s she wrote "The Life and Death of Great American Cities" which challenged the notions of what a city should be like. She wanted intersecting, diverse, pedestrian based bustling places, and not clean organized cities based around efficient roads and isolated neighborhoods. Apparently, it is read now in all urban planning programs, though I haven't read it myself. You can get a feel for the book by reading her Yahoo obituary, and it is her classic, most famous work.
I did read large sections of "Systems of Survival" (and "The Nature of Economies"), which has a central idea in it, that I still carry with me. Essentially, she tried to contrast commercial and governmental systems of living. Each has its own virtues and drawbacks, and, she argued, usually bad things happen when the two get crossed. The mafia is an example of a hybrid between the commercial, since they make their money buying and selling, and the governmental in that they use force and discipline to control others. I think that there are strong limitations to this idea of hers, but there is a core which seems right. Whenever I talk about government not getting involved in certain activities, because government is naturally not any good at that sort of thing, I am spouting my version of Jane Jacobs.
So, this is my little salute to her. Thank you for bringing new ideas in the world for the rest of us to work with.
Monday, April 24, 2006
1) Ever since Tolkien's landmark works, the literary world has been seen innumerable Dark Lords who must be defeated by a band of noble friends before the Evil One destroys the world forever. In "Book Title Here" we learn what would happen if the Dark Lord had ever won. The novel begins in the normal way that Tolkein-inspired epics always do. A young man raised in the countryside has been swept into the great events of his day. All hope seems lost as he and his friends ride out to face Evil in one last desperate battle. Only this time, they actually lose. Chapter Two follows a young captain in the Evil One's forces who helps in the quick conquest that follows, but now at The End of All Things, what do they do? There are still people who wish to eat, people who wish to rise in power, people who wish to find a mate for an hour or a lifetime. As the world reshapes, we find the young captain trying to bring some order so that he and his kind can live for more than a day. To do this, they must eventually meet the Dark One again, but this time, fight against him. Can they win where the great forces of Good failed?
2) When J was just six, his parents sold the last track of land on the family farm to a developer. A young girl, T, and her family moved into the new suburb and into J's heart. After being friends for years growing up, they spend time together while Thuy is back from college and find that their feelings run even deeper than friendship. But life is never straightforward, even for dedicated young lovers, and T must go back to school. J must find a way to support his family and eventually joins the military. It will provide money to his mother and get him back to school one day, a place he has always belonged, as he possesses a rare and acute mind. Each step is oh so practical and logical but the distance between T and J continues to grow. Will they ever find each other again, or is just time to move on and remember the first love fondly as something that once was?
3) Tira lives in a world where every woman she knows is the property of one of the Courts. Of course, this is where they want to be. Who wouldn't want to live in the lap of luxury instead of laboring on a farm, even if they might have to wear a collar? One person who doesn't is Tira. She feels something is horribly wrong with her world, and her first struggle is simply to escape. After repeated failures to get away, caused by her best friend trying to save her from herself, she gets out, pulling that friend kicking and screaming the whole way. Disappearing into the mountains, they are at their life's end when they are found by Miyun and her friends at the Legion Bakery. Tira quickly discovers that this bakery is a lot more than it seems, as it is filled with girls who have also escaped from the Courts. Tira helps Miyun get more girls to safety or into hiding, but ultimately becomes dissatisfied with this limited work. She needs to destroy the whole system and change people's minds so that they don't want to ever enter a Court again. Can she do it without descending into violence? How much violence is justified to get rid of this odious world? Is there a middle way between chaos and freedom?
4) This isn't a pitch. It's just that I only have a few stories under my belts, so perhaps I should spend the summer writing short stories and getting better at writing before tackling a novel.
Any thoughts are great. I'd especially like to know if these have already been done. Well, of course, 2) has been done. It's a flat romance novel, so I'd be writing it in my own style to make it different. How about 1) and 3)? I know things are similar. Sometimes I say that 3) is like a cross between Robin Hood and Margaret Atwood with a splash of Raise the Red Lantern. 1) is kind of like a cross between Tolkein / Jordan / Eddings, Maus (which I haven't read), and The Screwtape Letters. All of them would be written with humour, though the last is obviously the darkest in tone. In fact, I am worried the last is too dark. I hate those women-as-slave worlds, and I don't want to have to spend too much time in one just so I can destroy it.
Friday, April 21, 2006
2) My backup plan if I can't get an academic job is to try and combine my old computer project management experience with the linguistics degree doing perhaps commercial natural language processing or voice response units or whatever. Not the ideal, but it would pay. Probably better than being a prof actually. I also just got an announcement for a summer program on "forensic linguistics" which is an interesting branch of ling outside of academia. It's basically anything having to do with language in the courtroom and as part of an investigation. So it includes the analysis of wiretaps and any speech data as evidence in a court; the type of speech the attorneys use; the concept of "simple" speech; the interpretation of statutes to some degree. Again, I don't think I'd want to do that, but it's an interesting side of things. Since half of the readers of this blog are lawyers or soon to be lawyers (the bar exam is nothing), I thought you might be interested.
3) Speaking of language, another field of linguistics is dialectology. It's the study of language variety and includes how dialects differ, how they grow, spread, and die, their location, their social import and use as a marker of identity, etc. Any linguist can go off about the issues involved in trying to identify a standard English, because there isn't really one, and moreover, it's virtually impossible to say that one dialect is actually better than another. When you really understand a dialect, you learn you can say different things in them and usually the thoughts are just as complex as they are in whatever the prestigious dialect de jour is. Moreover, some linguists study taboo words; how all languages have them, how they grow and relate to other words (naughty words take over meaning from other words; you can't say cock for rooster any more or ejaculate for a burst of excitement or vagina for... sheath, but that last one is just the original Latin and has nothing to do with English; I just wanted to throw it in so I get some more hits from surfers; I'm naughty yet not). All that said, when linguists walk out of the class room, they act just like everyone else. They make Bush / nucular jokes even though they know it's just a dialectal thing and no indication of intelligence. They get embarassed when people say fuck and shit. I'm a little embarassed right now.
UPDATE: And, yes, in Latin class in 10th grade where we read Caesar's Gallic Wars (Invasion of Britain chapter) where they frequently talked about the Roman centurions and their vaginae, well it was more than we could take. Mr. Coombers must have hated those sections.
Actually I remember getting in trouble in 7th grade science, falling on the floor in hysterics at the word "fatty acids". That was nothing, however, to social studies with the teacher in her north Louisiana accent talking about Mao Ze-Dong, which sounded for all the world like "mousey dung." I think I got kicked into the hall for the giggle attack. I'm giggling now. I guess I can't use the "I was 11 excuse" anymore. Hee-hee, "mousey".
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Monday, April 17, 2006
Friday, April 14, 2006
Did you ever know that? I didn't.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
You slice up some apples as thinly as you can. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar (I used Splenda last week and that was fine) and I like to add almonds or craisins and such.
Next up is the crepes. Flour, milk, butter. Pretty much it. You put oil in the pan and make it nice and hot. The key to get a thin crepe is to not put much batter and rotate it around the bottom of the pan. Use a fork to turn up the sides and keep things moving. It shouldn’t take more than a minute to make a crepe. I was keeping them warm in the oven here.
Then you just wrap it up and, when not on a diet, add a bit of powdered sugar or whipped cream. Invite Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf over and you are set. Notice the fantabulous art of presentation here with the apples along the sides and on top? That’s just for you guys.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Pitch Accents, Recursion, and the Construction of Local Discourse
Previous work on the intonational structure of discourse has focused mostly on the phonological or phonetic expression of global discourse segment boundaries, as well as overall affective features of different styles of discourse. The major exception to this generalization is the study of boundary tones and between Intonational Phrase pauses, which serve to connect and separate the phrases in a serial manner. The current project continues this latter work and looks at the intonational structure of local discourse, that is the relations between proximate Intonational Phrases, typically within one discourse segment. Through the analysis of American English political speech, some new cues for the structure of discourse are identified. These cues include the repetition of intonational melody to ease processing, the use of deaccented phrases to close a grouping, and parallel and dominating pitch realization on nuclear pitch accents across Intonational Phrases. The pattern of nuclear pitch accent phonetic realization in particular can be used to build elaborate hierarchical discourse structures of a recursive nature. This recursiveness in intonational phonology would seem to be in opposition to the common theoretical assumption of strict layering, which, among other things, explicitly forbids phonological recursion. This will lead to a discussion of the relations between stress, rhythm, intonation, and grouping, and it is proposed that this recursiveness is not part of the normal metrical stress patterns of speech, out of which the Strict Layer Hypothesis grew, but instead a form of cohesion or generalized anaphora. The result is that even though the patterns identified are highly recursive, they are not necessarily in opposition to previous layering proposals.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
The rationale for the NSA program that wiretaps domestic calls without warrants is that these abilities fall under the President's war powers as granted by the Constitution. So let's think about something that seems clearly beyond the pale. If the President as Commander in Chief is conducting a war with, say, Myanmar, does he have the legal right to send a team around to chop off the hands of small children in Iowa?
Seems to be a couple possibilities. 1) He does not have the right because there is an explicit law on the books forbidding it and that is the complete story. 2) He might have the legal right, despite such a congressional law, due to inherent constitutional authority. However, I think most would want to say that the constitutional power only grants such authority if the actions directly relate to conducting the war. He has authority to conduct a war, not do anything he pleases while a war is going on.
Let's pursue this. Unfortunately, actions don't come with little tags which say "war-related" and "not-war-related" on them. Someone has to decide this. Who? One clear possibility is the President. But this brings up gigantic problems. If the person who decides whether or not their actions are war related is the very person being regulated, then this is no regulation at all. One might say that the President is limited by losing the next election, but I think most of us want a little more constraint placed on the Presidency than absolute power for four years. So having the regulatee also being the regulator doesn't work. Who next could help make this decision? The logical possibility seems to be the judiciary, which is the branch explicitly set up to decide matters of constitutionality.
If that is right, then it seems we are back to where the controversy started. We grant that the Presidency has constitutional authority to conduct wars, but we need a mechanism to make sure that his conduct is in fact related to the war in a direct manner in order to rule out dumb things like in my thought experiment. But this is the very thing that the Executive is asserting is not required. They are refusing to have the judiciary monitor their war conduct despite the logic of it, and the fact that Congress has explicitly expressed its wish that the Executive do so with the FISA laws.
Should the Judiciary monitor every single action that the Executive makes in conducting a war? Of course not. They have to be focused on items that aren't obvious. Wiretapping domestically, when the courts have held up the rights of citizens to not be wire-tapped and when the Congress has required such monitoring, seems like something that would fall under these guidelines.
Monday, April 10, 2006
- Foreign Devils on the Silk Road by Peter Hopkirk (archaeologists both preserving and looting China in the 20s and 30s).
- The Symposium of Plato - a meditation on love
- Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis - good for thought
- Adventures in Ideas by A.N. Whitehead - a bit of philosophy. If you are into theology, which I am not really, process theology is born out of Whitehead's reflections. Warning, this is tough going.
- Tone by Moira Yip - a great resource on tone languages of the world
- On Liberty by John Stuart Mill - classic defense of leaving people alone unless they hurt others. This is liberalism in the old sense.
- A Generative Theory of Tonal Music by Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff - a look at music theory from a linguistic theoretical perspective. Almost certainly wrong and hard-slogging, but full of ideas.
- Being There by Andy Clark - philosophy of cognition exploring the concept of embodiment.
- The Zen Kitchen by Dogen and Uchiyama - If you were the cook in a Zen monastery, how would you act? Would you resent the lowly position? Or would you practice zazen through being a cook here, now?
- Mulamadyamikakarikas by Nagarjuna. Wonderful Sutras of the Middle Way. Nirvana is. Nirvana is not. Nirvana is and is not. Nirvana neither is nor is not. Got it?
Anyone care to share some of their favorites?
Friday, April 07, 2006
I don't have 10 favorite books.
I have a small list of perenniels that I carry around. These are:
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Till We Have Faced by CS Lewis
The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki
Perelandra by CS Lewis
Norse Myths by Roger Lancelyn Green
The Bounty Trilogy by Nordhoff and Hall
After this, I was at a loss. Maybe I could put Lord of the Rings up there, but I've only read it completely once. I remember flipping through The Firm by Grisham like a mad man, but giggling at the stereotypical characters the whole way. I've read all but the most recent Robert Jordan books, but sometimes I feel like it's perseverence more than enjoyment getting me through those. I really liked Pride and Prejudice when we read it in high school, but come on that was high school and I haven't touched it sense. I mean I've read plenty more, but I don't love plenty more. It's the opposite of, say, Van Morrison songs. How could I only choose 10 of those? I'm moving all my Van to a new iPod and struggling to keep a Top 40 play list.
In fiction, it's only the top 6 that I like to just take down and read again in a quiet moment. I remember reading the first bit of Tony Morrison's Beloved and thinking this was some of the most beautiful prose I'd ever encountered. But I never finished it. Ditto with Crime and Punishment. I remember the tension and images from a Tale of Two Cities, but I haven't read it since 9th grade. And it's not just that these are all Great books and I would be happier with some genre fiction. I remember just ripping through The Day After Tomorrow by Alan Folsom, a contemporary adventure/spy novel, a few years back, but I have no desire to do it again. I've started two of N's romance novels, but not finished. I've read the first 4 Harry Potters, but still haven't felt enough motivation to do books 5 and 6. There's nothing wrong with them, but it takes me days to read a novel, and there aren't too many worth days of my time more than once, when I could be doing something else.
This may seem odd to some of you who know me offline, because the single way that I like to spend discretionary money is books and periodically music. I don't know what I've been doing at the bookstore though, because I apparently don't read much of the fiction there, and that which I do read I don't frequently love. This brings me back to the question of my writing. If I rarely read fiction, devoting myself to academic-ish non-fiction, why am I writing it, and how can I ever expect to be any good?
Maybe I should do 10 favorite non-fiction books. I wonder how that would go.
UPDATE: OK, maybe I need to add Karin Kallmaker to my list, though I can't remember the name of the book and she has a bunch. It was the first and only time I've ever written to an author before to praise her book, but that's probably in part because most of the fiction authors I read are dead. She was very kind in her response, by the way.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Problem: My body and mind must move from one location in space over a distance which takes time to a second location.
1) Merge locations
2) Get rid of distance
3) Get rid of time
4) Shorten distance
5) Shorten time
6) Recreate my body in location 2
7) Move my body to location 2
8) Wait for location 2 to come to you
Apparently, I was just trying to work through the logical possibilities, but had no more thoughts on how to handle simple tasks like "get rid of time". So I moved on:
Could move conventionally very quickly
Conventional solution:Let's say goal is to circle earth in 10 minutes. Would need to move... 25,000 miles / 600 seconds = 41 miles per second.
Speed of light equals 386,000 miles per second, so the ratio of 41 over 386,000... Some long division = .000106c.
Just barely over 1/10,000 of the speed of light; not too fast on a cosmic scale.
Some more issues:
going that fast - propulsion
going that fast in orderly manner - system
surviving the acceleration ==> this is the biggest problem.
Solutions to acceleration problem:
decrease forces exerted by acceleration
increase our ability to withstand acceleration
Need to discover the causes of G force, what safe limits are, what exactly it does to us
And that, dear readers, to borrow a phrase, is as far as I got. I do remember images of some sort of vacuum tubes to eliminate friction that went over or through the oceans. They basically functioned to get you from one continent to another, but after that, well, I guess you had to take the bus. Of course, vacuum tubes have nothing to do with teleportation. It's just an idea to move really fast. I don't know why in about one hour's thought I couldn't solve all these problems with my one class in Intro Physics. The next page, of course, switches topics and only says this:
A history book which gave a realistic picture of our history; tried to show development all over the world; time loosely proportional to space in the book.
I still carry this idea around in my head actually. The idea is to get an idea of what it was like to live on planet earth on a daily basis, not focusing on brief, important flashes, but what it was like to live. I sometimes wondered if a third of the book would have to be devoted to sleeping. Following this, well, I can't say exactly what it was in public, but it's a story. From the time when I was writing this, I think N was away in Seattle and I was in Tennessee. I will say no more on that. Then we get to "Curriculum for Machine Translation" with a list of courses in various fields.
Can we say attention deficit disorder?
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
So I'm putting my new camera phone to use... here's a couple of pics of everyday life in my part of Bangkok. This is a shot of the sidewalk very close to my office. To get to where I work you go down to where that orange sign is and turn right.
This is a busy sidewalk market. You can buy anything here, from shirts to snacks to lottery tickets to toys. Everything to the right there is erected afresh every day at about 10:00, and torn down by 3:00. By 5:00 it has transformed into a food market. By midnight it is again an empty lot.
You can see that the vendors spill over onto the sidewalk itself; during lunch hour, it takes about 2 minutes to navigate the 1/2 block through the crowd.
Here's another shot of the same area, this time with my farang boss waving to the camera. That's Ross. I always think he looks like the great white hunter with that mustache of his.
Finally here is a shot of a local western hangout, called "Gullivers." It's a bit of a strange place. The food here is more expensive than a typical Thai establishment, but it's much less expensive than your typical place looking to attract farang tourists. The food and atmosphere is comparable to Chilli's or some other B&G like that, but there are 8 pool tables contained within. There are always plenty of farang men and Thai women hanging around looking to hook up with each other.
Hopefully this will be the start of a series of picture entries... as I see things worth sharing I'll post them here.
Monday, April 03, 2006
I splurged yesterday. Went shopping for a new cell phone (or "mobile" as it is exclusively refered to over here.) The one advantage to going to Bangladesh is that I get a per diem of $98 per day, which is about $20 more per day than is required. So after two weeks I have a tidy little bonus for myself. I was torn about whether to spend or save... I would have spent it in a heartbeat but I didn't really want anything. Eventually I decided to get this new phone. Why? For you, my dear friends! You see, many times I've been walking around the city and seen something that I wanted to take a picture of and share with you. But, since my digital camera is bulky, I never carry it with me. The model I bought includes a camera and an MP3 player as well, so I can reduce the number of electronic devices I carry and take those cuff-of-the-moment snaps of life in the City of Angels. I think of it as a hardship reward... spend two weeks in Dhaka, here ya' go, buy yourself something pretty.
You've probably seen the stories about Thailand political protests in the news. It's really quite divisive. Talk to someone poor and uneducated, they love Thaksin. Talk to the middle class, they hate him. Thaksin thinks he can stay in power just by the votes of the rural poor; he's wrong. True, in a democracy, it's one person, one vote, and Thailand is about 65% rural. However, it's the middle class that is most politically active and can wield the greatest economic bullet. If they middle class continues to protest instead of work, the Thai economy will get hit hard. Already the retail sector is quoting millions of dollars in lost revenue. I think the only question is, are the protest leaders clever enough to keep up the momentum they've built and keep the pressure on, or now that the election has happened will things move back to the status quo?
Dum dum dum, time to go.
"Your existence pervades my being."
Ahhh, I am in love already. I don't know what it means except that it is highly pretentious and shows a complete lack of perspective on a high school crush. It also says "over-educated" to me and is something I have been trying to get out of my writing ever since. Anyway, it is a reminder why I do not write poetry. Unfortunately, this horrible-ness in poetics has extended into almost any attempt to write music lyrics. I started a song several years back that I still remember a fragment of. Here you go. Line 1:
How can you be hurt by someone when they didn't hurt you?
OK. Actually, not too bad. Perhaps a little long, but you know, not bad. I mean it's not catchy, but I'm not embarassed. Yet. Line 2:
The separation of active and passive is so complete and true.
Holy crap, that's awful. I've been giggling all day long about how awful that is. I wasn't even in Linguistics then and I was trying to boil love down into grammatical structures. Shudder.
I did write, I think, three complete songs once in college, which I recorded on tape for N as a birthday present, complete with guitar accompaniment. I still thank N for not playing it very often. N, please don't read this and get nostalgic. Please. Or at least don't play them for me and smile. I'm not strong enough to take it.
Saturday, April 01, 2006
I took off to Carleton, where I periodically dabbled in doing some sound and lights for shows, but focused most of my efforts on N and classes, where I was an Asian Studies major. Welly went to Columbia, where he finished with a political science degree, but he did more than dabbled. In 1993, he took over a lead role in Miss Saigon on Broadway. In 1997, he founded 2nd Generation, a non-profit New York based theater company, that puts on Asian-American themed shows. He has received all sorts of awards and been praised both from the Asian American community and at large. His latest effort, that I know of, was this show, which seems to have been a fundraiser for The Taiwanese United Fund. The show is all about his parents coming to the US from Taiwan and includes his story. I am happy to say that, at least in the synopsis, L'ville doesn't figure very prominently.** It goes on to tell the story of how he fell in love with Dina, who is the female lead in the show, since it is autobiography, and how they moved to Los Angeles together. Finally, back in real life, when the show was done, he actually proposed to her on stage. How freaking romantic is that?
Anyway, I just wanted to express my admiration to Welly and all that he has accomplished. You can see his web site here. The man's even got a Wikipedia entry. And I do feel good that, while the Spring Musical would have happened without my involvement, I was in fact one of the people who made that happen, which then let Welly discover something he loved. Pleases me to no end.
**The last time I was back at my prep school was the 10th reunion, in 2000. Another classmate who was then a writer for, I believe, Vanity Fair UK came with a photographer because she was on assignment to write an article on this posh American reunion. I only knew her a little - she was the nurse in the spring musical - but somehow she ended up spending a good bit of time with my friends and I that weekend. I always wondered what sort of article she wrote about all of us. Honestly, I can't imagine it is anything good.