Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Big Day (paca)

So big day tomorrow professional wise. OK, I guess it's really a medium day. Anyway, the Acoustic Society of America conference is in Honolulu from Tuesday until Saturday. It's joint meeting this year with the Acoustic Society of Japan and it's a pretty big affair. There are some 1600 presentations and posters and 300 and some on speech. I will be presenting my own poster tomorrow morning on "An Acoustic Functional Model of English Intonation."

It's not too exciting - the poster - but it's my first. I did actually finish the thing and I picked up the $125 color print of it from Kinko's a few hours ago. I was at the conference today and giving a poster really seems fairly low key. You have this 8 foot wide space at which you put your poster. You then stand next to it, and if anyone asks or looks interested enough, you tell them about the research. I think I can do that. At least when I was wandering around the speech posters this afternoon, nobody was grilling the people abusively about their work. So, I'm off to spend the next hour or two practicing my little schpiel. (Does anyone know how to spell that word?)

My goal was to spend the entire week at the conference, but I have this pesky class on Thursday with some portion of my final project due, so... I guess I won't. It was really nice of the ASA however to host their conference 4 blocks from my house. Travel expenses are rather low that way. You literally walk over three blocks from my place, and then down to the beach, and, voila, Sheraton Waikiki. It was kind of strange to be lugging a laptop through the conference facility when there are people surfing out the back door.

In completely unrelated news, I should have a "New Beginning" of my own popping up on Evil Editor on Wednesday or Thursday. My entry was removed today from the Beginning site, which should mean that he got a continuation he found amusing enough and it's time to post. Then people will tell me what crap it is. And, while it won't be fun to hear it's crap, learning that is why I posted it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Guns in the home? (paca)

So, dear readers, would any of you ever have a gun in the home? If so, what type and for what reason?

Let me go off on my personal history with guns. First, I have a little more experience with guns than one might expect from some grad student in Linguistics living in Honolulu who is a bleeding liberal (OK, maybe not if my great hope with the new Democratic Congress was to immediately tackle the deficit, but I try to live up to stereotypes.) I did riflery at camp as a kid, where at 8 or so I earned enough points to get a Marksman badge with my .22. I actually had a hunting license for a year or so as a Boy Scout (though the instructor told me to get a lot more practice in before I ever went hunting for real.) I also owned both pellet and BB rifles as a child, and we would walk around the neighborhood shooting poor birds that went by - black bird, bluejays.... Not terribly proud of that now. At the same time, my family was never a hunting family at all. My dad got invited on some duck hunting trip once and for a couple years there was a 12 gauge in his closet. It never got used other than the one vacation trip.

Also, since I grew up in a small town in a rural area, these are the ways that guns were used when I was a kid:

1) You go hunting and shoot some animal, like a duck or deer.
2) You shoot as sport - targets, beer cans, the unfortunate turtle sitting in a creek on your grandfather's farm.
3) You shoot your spouse in a fit of domestic violence.
4) Your child or your child's friend find your gun lying around and shoot themselves.

When I think about owning a gun, it's item number 4 that I always think about. Far too many children shot themselves or others with guns when I was growing up, and for people who have seen me with B, I am, on the matter of physical safety, very cautious. (Basically, I treat him like I treated myself as a kid, which is that I don't go dangling off things until I have practiced dangling for a while and know I'm a good dangler. The llama was a go-for-it dangler and had broken bones to prove it, as well as more adventures. I had less adventures and have never broken a bone.) So I think I would only ever have a gun if I could truly keep it locked in a safe - literally. If that's correct for my personality, then I can imagine owning a gun for hunting purposes. But due to the safe, I just see no point in keeping a gun for security reasons.

In the time between someone smashing in my door and running into my bedroom, I don't think I'd have time to open the safe much less load a weapon. It would probably be quicker for me to jump out the window. Because of this, I've just never seen any great purpose in owning a gun for security. I'm not going to keep a loaded weapon in a drawer by my bed. The risk is just too great for me.

There was a bit on NPR several years ago where they were doing reader letters. In some segment, they had given a stat that a weapon in the home was (something like) 10 times more likely to be used against a family member than an intruder. The reader asked what crazy hippie organization gave them that stat. The lovely answer was the NRA.

So, do any of you have guns in the home for security purposes? How do you handle the quick availability versus gun safety issue? Again, I'm not anti-gun. I can imagine keeping a gun for sporting purposes quite safely in the home. It could be quite fun to go shoot targets on an afternoon. But for security, it's never seemed practical to me. I'd have to feel very, very insecure before the rewards outweighed the risks of keeping a weapon easily available.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Tropical Disk Golf (Llama)

Nope, not coming out of retirement, really. However, for those of you that enjoy a nice game of disc golf, how about this for a course?

Definitely I'll head to Samui when I finally make it out to the beach! Check out the pictures for disk golf, Thai style. I think RRR should open up something like this in Alto.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Making it official (paca)

I'm sorry that I've been an incredibly lame blogger as of late. I have things to talk about, but I'm just tired. And so, why don't we make it official? I will post again this weekend after T-Giving. This way no one has to check the site for a few days.

So happy holiday to all and see you in about five.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

OJ Book Petition (paca)

Here's a link to an online petition started by the Goldman family to protest OJ profiting from writing a book about how he (would have) murdered his children's mom.

First online petition I've signed.

The number of signees is lower than I would have expected so far, so, if you agree, perhaps post a link on your blog too.

Update: Apparently, the book and the TV special have been cancelled. I assume OJ already got his advance, but this is about as good as it could turn out, I think.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Hawaii tsunami? huh? (paca)

I was sitting in my office this morning, checking the news and noticed that apparently Hawaii was just hit with a tsunami. Moreover, Waikiki itself, where I live, was hit with the tsunami.

Shouldn't I have noticed or heard about it?

Apparently, the tsunami was tiny with 3 foot waves and so the tsunami warning was canceled. A Waikiki swimmer was sucked threw a sea wall and got some scratches but was otherwise fine.

This doesn't stop the weird feeling from looking at the front page and reading "Hawaii hit by tsunami" though.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Powell Doctrine and social programs (paca)

I followed last week's election pretty closely, mostly over on "The Moderate Voice" weblog, as well as news sites. Of course, that means there was a lot of discussion about Iraq, and periodically its possible parallels to Vietnam.

Now, I honestly know little about Vietnam. I was born right around its end, and I don't remember much from high school about American history after the failure of the The League of Nations. Apparently, there was this WWII thing that we never got to. But my understanding is that what went wrong in the last few years of Vietnam was that American policy got stuck in a rut. They weren't moving forward or backward. Many people didn't want to leave for the dumb reason that they didn't want to admit defeat and for the good reason that the American presence was doing some good. After all, Saigon fell right after we left. But while there, I don't think the goals were all that clear anymore. It was a little of this and a little of that. People were fighting and dying, but exactly what they had to do before they could come home was unknown.

And it seems that in some ways this is where we have gotten ourselves in Iraq. I kept thinking that the President must have measurable goals that he just doesn't want to reveal to the public for security reasons, but I really wonder now, not just that he didn't have them when he started, which seems to be decently documented, but that he didn't even draw them up last month when it became clear they needed some. So we seem to be in this place where other than generalities about standing up and freedom we don't know what we are doing, or if we do, we don't seem to want to commit the resources to do it. Despite this possibility (and it may be wrong), many people, including myself, are inclined to say, "you can't just up and leave! We destroyed the government, so now we are stuck there morally, not for pride or reputation, but for the real Iraqi citizens who need help." I still think that is probably right. What I just don't know is if we are able to meet our obligations. Generals and politicians and wise people know that, not me.

I am going to leave Iraq now and move to the main point of this blog entry.

Are social programs the liberal version of Vietnam? In other words, have the Great Society programs of the Johnson era or even the FDR ones gotten to a point where 1) there aren't really any goals to achieve, but instead we just muddle along with no ability to "win"; 2) we see that poverty is just as bad (if this is true) as when we started, but we think we have to "stay the course" until someone comes up with something better? After all, we are doing some good. 3) We have thousands of social workers and government employees doing everything they can to help people in these programs, just like American soldiers were/are doing everything they could to help Vietnamese and Iraqis, but the system is broken?

There are surely problems with such an analysis. I gave one I still like a few months back - we may not solve "Hunger" but we do feed a real hungry person, and isn't that the point?

But let's say there is a kernel of truth to my analogy as well. If so, then perhaps they both have similar solutions. What was supposed to be the policy solution to prevent quagmires like Vietnam from happening again? The Powell Doctrine - Use overwhelming force; only go in when you have exact ideas on how to get out. In short, decide exactly what you want to do and then throw everything and the kitchen sink at it. This doctrine seems to have worked decently well militarily until Iraq, at which point we ignored the idea in large part.

My question is: do we need to be applying the Powell Doctrine to social programs? Instead of choosing between small bits here and there, which we then apply across the U.S., choose some specific problem and then do everything you possibly can to fix it. Of course, you can't fix poverty. But the Powell doctrine isn't supposed to end war either. It is, however, supposed to keep you out of ill-defined never-ending war. So for a social program, you can't cure poverty. But maybe you can choose one broken neighborhood and attack its problems like no one has ever seen. Take East St. Louis or the 9th Ward or "across the slew" and go after it. Beautify the neighborhood, give tax breaks to small business, have Head Start programs in every neighborhood, find mental health treatment for the homeless who need it, triple the community policing, get drug treatment in there, engage every church and civic organization you can to participate in creating the solutions, build schools throughout the district, and right on down the list.

Of course, you cannot do this in every single place at once. We'd all go bankrupt. But if you can truly "fix" a neighborhood in 5-10 years, based on some defined goal before you started, then you can move to the next place. When East St. Louis supports itself, you don't have to spend the money there anymore. Ironically, one drawback to such a solution is that people might start moving to that location to take advantage of the new schools and the tax breaks on business. But if people are now moving to the place most people were afraid to go before, then it seems you have succeeded. Time to find the next problem.

I don't know, but I wonder.

Fake Plot 2 (paca)

Another fake plot I submitted over at EE for an unknown novel named "Dire Wolf".

In this collection of short stories, CliffNote Brown uncovers that his uncle Dire Wolf is a werewolf. In following stories, CliffNote reveals the identities of Ima Succuboos, Vamp Ire, and Bob the Lifesucking Demon III.

Maybe Leaflet Brown or GameBoy Brown would have been better. I think I'd also now change it to Bob Soulsuckingdemon Smith. These are mysteries for those with a really short attention span.

BTW, I loved Encyclopedia Brown when I was a kid.

OK, getting carried away now with my character. Here's one for "Painted Wings".

Cliffnote Brown discovers a dead angel with wings painted solid gold. There's only one clue: a business card of one Luke I. Fur. Can Cliffnote solve the riddle?!


Icarus discovers that his nephew Harold's purple crayon isn't quite as magical as everyone thought.

Guest Blogger B (paca)

My favorite B joke as of right now:

Daddy paca knocks an egg against the frying pan, opening the egg, and dumping it in.

B: "Knock, knock. Who is it? It's egg!"

Cracks me up every time.

Friday, November 10, 2006

What's the paca doing? (paca)

First, for those who are tracking, again I have no idea if the llama is around. No Thai blog hits in a couple weeks. I should probably write him sometime.

Next, we have today's million dollar question. What's paca doing? I mean, what's he doing when not pretending to be king, composing theme songs, going to Halloween parties, or writing love notes (with critique) on Evil Editor's blog?

To get to the point, I'm about to talk about my academic life.

It's November and I'm beginning to wonder if I've finally bitten off more than I can chew. First, we have the big Acoustic Society of America conference that's happening the last week of November here in Honolulu. I had what I thought was a nice little paper I wrote last Spring for a seminar about a different grammatical formalism for intonation in language, so this summer I sent in an abstract. They kindly gave me a slot to do a poster presentation. The bad, really bad news is that I've since discovered my simple little solutions don't work. And so far I haven't figured out how to solve them. I did a practice presentation to profs and fellow presenters on Tuesday, and I stayed up to 5:30 in the morning to prep for it. Even then, I had to leave places on my poster where it said things like "Super Cool Graphic Here!" and "Stunning Conclusion!" I periodically freak out about it, thinking I should just cut my losses and cancel. But I've separately spoken to three outside professors who want to read the paper when done. Sigh.

To make matters worse, I'm supposedly doing a single project for both my Acoustic Phonetics class and Machine Learning Algorithms class. I've been designing the project all semester, but it's still not designed yet, and I'm again not sure I can pull it off. I have to process large chunks of data, probably in the MatLab program and programming language, and while Matlab is on the way, I have no idea how to use it yet. I don't know how to program anything.

In happier terms, I spent a good bit of October working with the person who just finished her doctorate that I've mentioned several times. We talked about writing fiction together, doing some Korean intonation work, and more than anything revamping and adding to her dissertation to publish a paper about how apologies work, focusing on the Korean case. I think that really has a chance to be something decent pretty quickly, but she's back in Korea now, and I have to focus on the big class project and conference presentation for the next three weeks to the exclusion of almost everything else.

Since I am not swamped enough, one idea that I am toying with is trying to organize a conference in 2008 on the topic of Information Theory and Cognition. Information theory is an old area of applied mathematics that was originally applied to telecommunications. How do you compress a signal, transfer it through some medium like a wire, and then retrieve it at the other end? The answer is to define "information" and then figure out how to encode and decode information. But this idea of information can have much broader uses, because all sorts of disciplines are interested in a way to quantify information. So information theory has been used in bioinformatics (especially genome stuff), neural computation, data analysis, robotics, and more. And it's been increasingly used in linguistics. I'd like to organize a conference focused upon the insights of information for linguistics, music, visual perception, cognitive neural science, motor behavior, vision, etc. I doubt I will really do this, but it's fun to think about.

In the end then I'm going to be really busy for the next three weeks working mostly on the conference and the class project. You can imagine me scanning through text files of radio speech, analyzing pitch patterns. I'll also be creating tables and putting little asterisks next to different frequency values to exclude them. I might be telling this acoustic software program called Praat to simulate certain distributions of frequencies.

And I have three weeks to do it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

If I were King or at least Speaker (paca)

If I wasn't exhausted, I would be jubilant. As I am sure you all know, the Dems have taken back the House and it looks like the Senate, though the latter is still uncertain as it hinges on Virginia and Montana, which are very close still. Virginia's Webb (D) has an 8,000 vote lead and all precincts have reported, but you never know. The even closer one is out in Montana where Tester (D) is a mere 4,000 votes over Burns (R) and only 84% of precincts are in. The Dems need both seats to win control.

But all this made me start thinking about what the Democrats should do now that they control the House and perhaps all of Congress. They still have to get Bush to sign any and all laws, since they do not have a veto-proof majority. Moreover, there is no doubt that lots of people voted against Bush and the Republican congressional leadership, rather than for the Dems themselves. This means that many Americans who maybe even voted for Democratic leadership today are probably a little wary about the party they chose. Moreover, many Republicans will be very tempted to obstruct and obstruct as much as they can so that the new Democratic Congress is a failure. This hurts American citizens but scores political points. This was something the now old Democratic minority succumbed to at times as well. So what do you do?

I think you first tackle as many bi-partisan issues as you can. Moreover, you try to grab what were supposed to be Republican strong points and make them your own, showing the voters that the Dems can deliver much of what the Republicans said they could but didn't. Like what?

1) Tackle the budget deficit immediately. Show that the "tax and spend" label is just a bunch of hot air. The easiest place to start is with all the earmarked, i.e., pork, legislation. Cutting it will literally cut billions out of spending immediately. But don't stop there. Make a couple tough calls. Find some programs that you have a principled reason to think government should not be involved in and end them. Cut, cut, cut. Democrats like me have been going off about the disgraceful budget deficit. Now, it's time to put actions behind those words and show that the new Congress really can control a budget, while the others could not. And then, in the medium term, you will probably have to let those old tax cuts expire. Everyone can argue amongst themselves whether or not this is "raising taxes" or just "going back to the way it was in the 90s". It's not important. The key is that the government needs the money to get back to a balanced budget. However, remember raising revenue is the second step. Immediately, cutting spending is the way to go. I may be an optimist, but most people do understand living on a budget and that we are at war to the tune of 300 billion and counting. You can't have everything.

2) I have seen a couple proposals from Dems or liberals to lower abortion rates. They involve things like better support of adoption, sex ed, and a whole list that I'm blanking on. What they'd don't include, of course, is making it illegal. I think it's time to put such a plan into action. Make Bush veto a plan designed to lower American abortion rates. If rates are reduced substantially in 4 years, this will make everyone remember there is a real difference between pro-choice and pro-abortion.

3) Find a compromise on immigration. The old Senate plan was endorsed by the President and the Senate but ran into "wall-only" foes in the House. Those foes aren't in control anymore. I'm not very well informed on immigration, but I usually start with a couple points. 1) Thousands of children of illegal immigrants are rightful American citizens and protecting children comes above feeling righteous about punishing their parents. 2) I'm not a big fan of guest worker programs as they may not be working in places where they are already used such as France, and they seem specifically designed to prevent immigrants from integrating into the larger society. You can't simultaneously design a program which makes people guests and then decry that they don't appear to be assimilating. So, find a way to increase legal immigration significantly, since our economy can clearly handle it. (If it couldn't, then people wouldn't keep coming over for jobs and finding them.) Find a way to make sure that the illegally descended American children are protected, and I mean in the context of their family, not a state program (making it impossible for their parents to find work so that they starve is not protection). And find a way to have a border and mean it. The basic issue now is that immigrants want to be here and Americans want them to be here, since we want their labor, but we have an immigration system which limits legal immigration far below its demand.

4) About half a year in, start working on accountability for all branches of government. This is incredibly touchy, I know, since it could wreck all of the work above. But it is also important to hold Presidents accountable when they appear to intentionally break the law. The Dems wanted to be in charge and so they now have to handle these hard issues. If I have to let past transactions go to get 1, 2, and 3 above done, then so be it, but if the new Congress doesn't take this more seriously going forward, then I will be voting against them the next time around.

In short, the Democrats should focus on a) choosing important issues that they can make actual progress on with a Republican president, b) build up support among moderate Republicans and centrists so that the Democrats are a stronger party for 2008, and c) find issues that are very difficult for Republicans to be obstructionists over - cutting spending, lowering abortion rates, etc.

The ironic thing is that for the Democratic Congress to be successful, they need a successful President. So, now that the protest is in, it's time to make this the best two years of the Bush administration. I don't mean the most powerful, I mean the best. Give Bush every opportunity to sign good legislation; give him a chance to change in Iraq. It will then be up to him how he behaves in response. For America, I hope his better side wins.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Llama drugs (paca)

Apparently, llamas are really small. At least their antibodies are.

I'm glad they're not using killer llamas.

Not so easy to use (paca)


So you know that Macs are supposed to be extremely easy to use, right? That's their selling point. So get this.

I got a new computer at work a month or so ago, and I had some 6 Gigs of imported music on the old one. Therefore, as part of the move, I selected about 700 of my favorites and moved them to my iPod in a huge playlist called The Move. (And thanks, dad, for the iPod in the first place!). Anyway, this morning I decided I would kick off the import to move all those songs back on to my new Mac laptop that I bought for dissertation work. (More on that some other time, but it's what allowed you to hear the Goatskin Pants theme song.)

Well, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to move the songs on my iPod to the new PC. (Sorry, all computers are PCs.). I dragged and dropped; I imported; I browsed; I "added to Library". But nothing works. I finally end up in Help.

Turns out you can use an iPod to move files from one computer to another, but you can't do it in the obvious way. Instead the instructions are, literally, about 50 steps long and you have to re-engineer your iPod to handle a folder and, blah, blah, blah.

In short, I've got 700 songs on an iPod that I apparently cannot re-arrange or add to. So I can't ever change them. The only thing I can do is wipe the entire iPod and start over. So much for months of importing music.... Is this why I still buy CDs and not digital files exclusively? I thought I was just being old-fashioned.

Thanks intuitive and easy to use Macintosh! If anyone is an iPod expert and knows how to take a song on the iPod and move it to my computer, please let me know. I think I am caught in digital security hell.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Silly plots (paca)

So another bit of blog participation over at Evil Editor's House is the Guess the Plot game. In this one, authors have submitted their query letters with a title. EE posts the titles only and the EE minions make up stupid plots to go with the title. Then, when EE is ready to critique the letter, he publishes 4 or 5 of the bogus plots along with the real one, and the readers are supposed to guess which is real. I don't usually participate in this activity, but I got on a tear today, so below we have 5 idiotic plots for some novel I know nothing about other than it is titled "FireHouse". So here you go:


Matthew's band FireHouse is going nowhere until J-Pop sensation Hiroko Girls hire them for a tour of East Asia. But does lead singer Yuko rock Singapore as much as she rocks Matthew's world?

It's been 9 years since one-armed albino meth-addict Josh saw his dad who with one hand ran a cactus nursery in the heart of New Orleans and with the other hand beat Josh and his mother every afternoon over tea. Now, Josh is bringing a gasoline can to the reunion. Firehouse: a heart warming Lit-fic Cozy. (A cozy is a light-hearted mystery that you curl up in the bed with and read on a rainy day. Lit-fic is literary fiction.)

14 year old Katie is the good natured joke of the DC fire department until she single-handedly carries the President out of a burning White House on her back.

Hunky firefighters seemed like a great idea for Jessica's new network reality show until the pent-up manheat becomes hotter than the blazes they fight. Will she lose her job to smarmy Randall or her innocence to studly Jared... and Stan... and Michael... and Stan and Michael. (I haven't ever read one of these, but I think this plot would fit right in at women's romantica publisher Ellora's Cave.)

When right-wing petroleum tycoons from the Amazon threaten to incinerate all of New Jersey with their "Firehouse" bio weapon, only fashion designer Alara Bouzenbottom stands in their way. (This one is gently teasing some thriller plots that have come across the site recently.)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Fanboy paca (paca)


First, this is totally utterly cool. Mr. Michael Nesmith (Papa Nez) has a new album out. His last album came out when I was like in college or something. But there it is. No, right here. Like most, I learned of Nez from the Monkees - the one in the wool hat. And I've been listening to his solo albums since... I think I got my first one, a vinyl LP in this used record store in Princeton, NJ in about 1988 or so.

But, I'm not a great fan boy. I like to save money, you know. Maybe it's not good? And maybe, well, I mean the guy looks exactly like my dad now! Click about 6 photos in. That's my dad! Nez grew a beard right after leaving the Monkees, around 1970, but now it's gone, he's 60-something, and I'm a fanboy of my dad!

Anyway, I wasn't sure I was going to buy it. Some Nez stuff is a dud. But then I look at Track 2 of the album

And, OMFG! It's Kurt Wagner as a guest vocalist.

Kurt Wagner!!

The lead singer and songwriter for one of the best bands ever Lambchop! I've written about them on here before. But, c'mon, what are the chances that the lead singer on Lambchop is guesting on a Papa Nez album? It sure sounds like him on the sample though, even though I'm listening real quiet at midnight not to wake N and B up. So I click over to a Lambchop site and OMG!!! they have like totally a new album out! Damaged, it's called. And it's supposed to be kind of like the earlier album " a woman" which is only my favorite Lambchop album.


And then on the Lambchop Community page, there's a link to Nez. So, yeah, crossover from top 5 band of mine to top 5 band of mine. Needless to say, I now have a package coming from Amazon. One Nesmith album, the Lambchop album, and, well, ok, I also have the Best of Pucho and His Latin Soul Brothers coming. I've wanted that one for about 3 years.

It's been at least a year since I bought a CD for myself. Cured that.

Dammit! Why didn't I fork over the money for the overnight delivery?!