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.

1 comment:

John said...

You probably don't want to hear that if you're using MatLab your problems have only just begun...

The beauty of poster presentations is that they're a very good place to play with ideas that aren't ready for 12 minute oral presentations. The opportunity to interact with people one-on-one and actually hold a conversation is great. I don't know anything about your field, so I don't know if your idea is fundamentally sound but needs some development, or if the idea is just wrong. But you'll probably get a chance to talk with people who can help you figure that out. And let's face it, natural selection works as well with memes as it does with genes.