philena: (dampskunk)
That is where I am right now. There is a four-week linguistics institute this summer, and the them is "language and the world," which essentially means that the emphasis is on empirical linguistics, rather than theoretical linguistics (although, with almost 80 different courses offered at once, the theory does slip in there.) This is incredibly cool. I'm taking four classes, one of which is directly relevant to my thesis project, two of which are descriptions of an extremely common research protocol (eye-tracking and brain-waves, also known as event-related potentials (ERPs)), and one of which was originally going to be a for-fun class, but turns out to be exactly on the sort of stuff I decided I didn't know enough about when I discarded a different thesis idea: computational psycholinguistics. There are workshops, such as, "here's how to use phonetic analysis software to synthesize experimental stimuli," talks by famous people, movies (although they're all linguistic documentaries), and simply eating dinner with someone is an education in linguistics. I chatted with one woman who is working on how computational pragmatics, and with another who is looking at how people use their feet (feet!) in sign language. True, there's work; I have spent all Friday evening, and all Saturday and Sunday reading things, but if I can keep up this pace I will be very, very smart by the end of July.

Aside from the classes and people, there are also a large number of other things that are making this month awesome:
  1. The location and weather. This institute is in Boulder, CO, which has plenty of pretty mountains and so on, but which even better than that has lots of thunderstorms! There's been at least some thunder every day, and sometimes quite dramatic rain and wind and lightning. They usually don't last more than an hour or two, and even though they tend to come at dinner time, meaning that I get wet as I walk to the cafeteria, my normal home has very boring, placid weather, and these storms are great.
  2. The dorm life! I miss Mr. Philena very much, but it's kind of fun to be in a dorm again. There's a rec room with ping pong and pool and a piano and foozball and air hockey (although I haven't had any time to use them), and each room has a fridge and a microwave, which means that I can have snacks at all hours. My roommate is kinda sorta a young-un, being two years behind me in my program (we arranged the rooming together ahead of time), and kinda sorta a peer, being married and having already gotten an MA before starting here--hence we're both one-year-post-MA. She's totally great, and keeps me from getting lonely without Mr. Philena.
  3. The cafeterias! Don't get me wrong--the food is pretty lousy. However, almost everyone is a linguist, and, especially this early in the institute, it happens quite often that I simply sit down at a table and introduce myself to whoever's there, or I'm sitting alone and someone else simply introduces herself to me, and then we talk about linguistics! It's like the first day of school without any cafeteria-anxiety: adults are mature and intelligent, so there tends to be less cliquishness, and everyone's a linguist, so there's usually a common topic of interest. Also, it's lots of fun managing to put together a delicacy from the semi-raw materials. Someone at my table today mentioned that if you mix chocolate milk and coffee you get a passable mocha! I'll try that at dinner tonight, I think.
  4. The campus! It's not a big deal, as campuses go. It's pretty similar, in fact, to my home campus: big buildings, green areas, lots of paths for walking, a few streets for driving, maps scattered around in case you get lost. But still, it's a bit of an intellectual puzzle to learn your way around a new campus, and my navigational confidence increases every day.
So here I sit, having read ten different papers/chapters/selected excerpts in the past four days, with three more to go, which I will probably not finish before more are assigned. It's warm, but breezy, and it's almost dinner time, which means that the evening thunderstorm should be coming in pretty soon. And indeed, I just heard two rolls while I was typing.
philena: (Default)

When I was in my final year at the University of Chicago, I sang in the chorus of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera company—as, in fact, I did every year. That year the play was The Yeomen of the Guard, which is, I believe, unique among G&S plays in that, despite the fact that there are two betrothals and (sort of) a wedding by the time the curtain falls, it nevertheless has a sad ending. The music is beautiful and the writing of each individual scene is excellent, and the first act finale in particular is brilliantly composed with terrific pacing. However, I never really liked the play very much, because, as I’ve gone around saying ofor the past five years, the ending is all wrong.

            Several weeks ago, I saw the Lamplighters’ production of the same play, and I changed my opinion entirely. The ending is not what distinguishes this G&S play from the others. In fact, it is at one of the first scenes it becomes quite clear that the development of the plot took a wrong turn (if something as briliiantly constructed as this story can be said to have taken a wrong turn anywhere) at the beginning.


Let us start at the beginning . . . )


philena: (manuscript)
In my psycholinguistics seminar, we finished up a week or so ago with a discussion of the following paper:

Kemper, Susan, Marilyn Thompson, and Janet Marquis (2001). Longitudinal Change in Language Production: Effects of Aging and Dementia on Grammatical Complexity and Propositional Content. Psychology and Aging 16(4): 600-614.

Briefly, it is a study of the language complexity of a few dozen older adults, starting ages 65 to 75, over a period of up to 15 years. Most adults entered and exited the study at different times, but they were all quite similar in one striking respect, which is shown below. It's aptly named a "spaghetti plot," but it's easily enough read when you understand the organizing principle. Each line represents an individual subject. The y-axis maps grammatical complexity, and the x-axis shows the age of the adult at each observation. (Observations were done at 6-month intervals.)

Note the precipitous drop in performance at 74 years. This is not due to any experimental error. It is not the case, for example, that whoever was measuring grammatical complexity changed jobs and a new person started the work. The x-axis is coded by age, not by time, so if subject 3 was 65 when the study started, while subject 18 was 72, they would have reached age 74 and had their measurements taken seven years apart, but they still experienced similar drops in performance. It's really quite terrifying how uniform the results are. I haven't read much work by Susan Kemper, but someone else in class mentioned that Kemper is known (at least by her) as that author who writes really scary articles about aging.

This paper has been niggling at the back of my mind for quite a while now, and so it was with a certain amount of surprise that I read this week's essay in the back of the NYTimes book review, in which a 73-year old author,  Gail Godwin, describes her own experience with the decline of her writing abilities---or more accurately, a decline of lexical access:

Inevitable for the old writer is the slowdown of word retrieval. You pause over the keyboard and summon in vain a word you need. This happens oftener and oftener, until you find your jotting pad crammed with thesaurus numbers (74.17, 658.11, 215.22, 236.2). All it once took was the slightest tug at the bell for the vigorous servant, accompanied by backup synonyms, to report for duty. Now you wait, and this waiting offers a variety of responses. You can rail at your “senior moment” like those tiresome people who bring a conversation to a halt because they can’t remember the name of a place or person. You can, of course, resort to your ragged thesaurus, unless your moment is so dire you can’t even remember any words for the concept you’re trying to describe. You can do without the word and perhaps realize how little you needed it, especially if it happened to be an adjective or an adverb. Or you can leave a blank, to be filled in later.

The phenomenon described here is known in psycholinguistics as "tip-of-the-tongue" states (or TOTs). Everyone knows them, but psycholinguists love them, not least because they are the most salient evidence for a separation of form and meaning in whatever part of our brain processes language. Many experiments, which I imagine are maddening for the subjects, work to induce precisely those states, and yield quite interesting results about the kinds of words whose retrieval is most likely to induce a TOT, and how much and what kind of information about those words is still available.

Godwin's discussion of this effect, however, almost convinces me that the decline of lexical retrieval is not a barrier to writing, and might even serve as a kind of internal editor:
For me, a consolation prize of word delay has been an increased intolerance for the threadbare phrase. I don’t want anyone on my pages to “burst into tears” or “just perceptibly” do anything, ever again. Better to take a break and ask: “What exactly do I want to say here? How does this really look?” I’ll ask myself, “How do you describe the way an old couple walk that shows they have been walking together for decades?” That in itself may turn out to be the best description.

However, when I return to Kemper's article, I see that, in fact, two separate correlates of language ability were measured. One is grammatical complexity, but the decline in lexical access described by Godwin is more properly the domain of a measure called "propositional content," whose development over time is shown on the spaghetti plot below:

As you can see, the decline in propositional density is far more limited, and has no sudden drop-off the way grammatical complexity does. Whatever Godwin is experiencing, it is probably quite minor compared to the changes in grammatical complexity that characterize the language of older adults. And remember--she is only 73 years old. It's possible that the real decline in her writing hasn't even started yet. 

Those have been my thoughts this morning, and they are a bit grim. I would therefore like to leave you with a more amusing story about language usage in younger adults--specifically, Mr. Philena's high school students. It is coming up to the end of the semester, so they know his ways pretty well now. Even in his algebra classes, which contain 9-12th graders who often can't even add single digit numbers and are in algebra simply because it's the lowest-level accredited class a high school can offer without having its state rating suffer--even in that class, where students are often withdrawn and uncooperative, some of the people know him and appreciate his work. Last week, some such students tried to help him keep order.

A rowdy student had just let loose with a slew of cursing and rough language, although "let loose" is perhaps not the best description, because it implies that hitherto the speaker had been holding it in, which, to hear Mr. Philena describe it, they never trouble themselves to do. One of Mr. Philena's defenders, knowing his sensitivity to such speech, decided to step in. "Hey, now!" he said, "No profound language in class!" Mr. Philena, who in fact values profound language in class, asked him if that was the word he wanted to use. Another student decided it wasn't, and volunteered, "You mean no prophetic language in class!"
philena: (pie)
I've been catching myself making a mental note not to forget nice things that happen, because I often find that when I have time to read the internet and do internety (i.e., not work-related) things, I'm usually in a bad mood due to the necessity of doing non-internety (i.e., work-related things) up until then. This is (fortunately) not an exhaustive list of all the things I've enjoyed over the past few weeks, but it's a fair sampling.
  • Interesting combinations of sun and light. The rainy season has started, which means that not only do I get to spend quite a bit of time cuddling on the couch with a cup of tea while the furnace runs and rain beats against the roof and wind rattles the metallic components that vent carbon monoxide from our gas furnace to the outside world, thus contributing to global climate change, but I also get to see the sky as a storm cloud moves on. Since weather patterns usually move from west to east, and since I'm usually home and able to see the sky only in the evening, this usually means that when the storms pass I get exquisite views of the dark clouds covering the sky and looming over the hills to the east, while a clear evening sun illuminates that whole picture from the west. Right before sunset this view is particularly striking, because the sunlight is clear and direct, but not very bright, and so low that the angle of the rays resemble nothing so much as theatrical lighting, rather than natural light.
  • Cats. I really like cats, and there are several in my neighborhood that I occasionally get to pet. One is called (by the Philenas) Long-Legged Tabby Cat. He lives in the apartment complex next to us, so we see him skulking down the driveway to start on his day's prowls in the mornings, and skulking back up the driveway to return home  at night. Farther down the street is a cat named Pepper, who is a calico and lives in a very nice brown-shingled house with a pretty garden. He's usually peering out the windows, but sometimes he'll perch on a post by the front steps, and occasionally Mr. Philena gets to pet him. Note that I use "he/him" as pronouns. In truth, we have no idea what his sex is, and Mr. Philena refuses to make a decision or use "it," so he always refers to Pepper by name. This tends to lead to amusing Principle C violations: "So I stopped walking and crouched down and asked Pepper if Pepper wanted to be petted. So Pepper curled and stretched and walked down away from Pepper's house and the rolled over and I petted Pepper. Then Pepper's owners came out and said hi, and Pepper scampered back up to them and they petted Pepper." There's also a very sleek black cat that I saw and petted just yesterday, but we don't see him often enough to give him a formal moniker. My petting also was cut short because a dog was walking up the sidewalk, and the black cat didn't think the sidewalk was big enough for the both of them, so he deserted me and scarpered up a nearby garden fence, where he perched with great dignity.
  •  Watching the flow of people at the bus stop. My bike has recently decided not to hold any air in the back tire, so until I get that repaired, I've been going to the local public transport station and catching a bus. While I wait, I get to see lots of cars pulling up and people dropping off spouses, picking up carpools, as well as individuals walking down the block and into the station. It's somehow comforting every morning to see an affectionate kiss between spouses again and again in the twenty minutes I wait as two scheduled buses fail to show up.  It's a nice reminder that there are lots of people who love each other.
  • Classes in which everyone is engaged and eager. Actually, I'm not talking about my sections, although we had a good time deciphering Hieroglyphic Luwian yesterday. In fact, I'm referring to my Polish class, in which I am the student, not the instructor. People are constantly asking questions and trying to phrase things in Polish, and we independently all agreed to ask the instructor for extra work over the winter break so that we don't forget stuff before next semester, when we'll all be back again. Then today we all decided to have a potluck dinner at the house of one of the students. It's really nice to be a part of that class.
  • Curling up on the couch with my laptop and a cup of tea and watching movies on Netflix. In fact, I think I'm going to home now and do just that. Happy Friday!
philena: (pie)
And I'm staying at home, making lemon curd. This involves stirring stuff over a double boiler for a while, so here I am, stirring:

Mr. Philena and I have been watching some truly spectacular lightning, but in less than an hour we will have to venture outside, alas, because a person from my program is hosting a pre-Thanksgiving dinner which we are planning to attend. Fortunately, she lives across the street and three houses down, so the outing will not be too onerous.

philena: (poppies)
LJ user babylon_poet, as well as one of my office mates, used to comment that I looked like the kind of person who knows about computers. For babylon_poet, this impression came from the fact that I wear glasses and flannel overshirts.* For my office mate, the impression came from the fact that I learned how to use LaTeX and talk about it a lot. (I do talk about it a lot, but I talk about it specifically because it's the only fancy computery thing I know how to use.) So every few weeks last term he would make a comment about a perl script or a config file, and I would look at him blankly and remind him that he should add those topics to what should already be by default the extremely large set of computery things I don't know about.

Now, however, that set will have to start decreasing! Why? Because I now use Linux!

For anyone interested in googling Mr. Philena's full name on google images, be aware that as of three weeks ago the first result that turned up contained a Trojan. We discovered this the hard way. Fortunately, the computer that was affected was not my grad school laptop, but instead my ancient college computer, which I got in 2003. I had read somewhere that the only way to get rid of a Trojan is to reinstall the operating system--anti-virus software can only quarantine it, not remove it. I don't know to what extent this is true. Maybe a tech-savvy person who knows about perl and config files could remove it in ten minutes without even needing to restart the machine. But, as I so frequently had to remind my office-mate, I am not that kind of person. I want to be that kind of person, however, and I've been itching to try Ubuntu for years, and here was the perfect opportunity: 7-year-old computer whose files I had providentially backed up a few weeks before the Trojan attack and which needed significant attention before it could be used freely again. So last night I downloaded Ubuntu, burned an image CD, installed it on the desktop,** and this morning I learned how to use the "sudo" command in the terminal to "update packages" and install VLC media player. The computer is now running smoothly, it can organize our picture, play music and DVDs, and it is safe from the enormous majority of malware. I am extremely smug.

*Ironically, the flannel overshirts are all Mr. Philena's, and he knows even less about computers than I do.

**During which process I ran into two bugs which I had to visit Ubuntu forums to solve. I understand this will be more common than with a Windows or Mac machine.
philena: (Pika!)
In many, many novels, especially those written by Jane Austen, female characters make heavy use of a sudden headache whenever they wish to retire from company and be alone. Anne Elliot does this to avoid a dinner with Captain Wentworth. Lizzie does this when she discovers from Colonel Fitzwilliam that Mr. Darcy in fact took an active role in preventing Jane from seeing Mr. Bingley when she was in London. (Hmm--in fact, it seems that there has been scholarly research on the subject of headaches and Jane Austen.) In an Hercule Poirot episode, a woman who wishes to be undisturbed for a while (so that she can change into her alter ego who is actually a murderess!) goes upstairs to lie down with a headache. A sudden headache, in short, is the perfect plot device to make a character disappear for a few hours without anyone asking any questions, and yesterday I discovered why. I do not get migraines, although poor Mr. Philena does,* but some combination of sun, heat, dehydration, stress, computer screens, air pressure, lack of caffeine, or who knows what else yesterday sent me to bed with I think one of the few bad headaches I've ever had in my life. I'm rarely really sick (although once I had a cold that genuinely did take away my sense of taste, so extreme was the congestion), so whenever I feel so bad that I can't actually function properly, I get a bit scared on the one hand (as the lovely writer of Hyperbole and a Half illustrates in the last few pictures of her saga of a health scare a bit more dramatic than my headache**), and a bit fascinated on the other. I remember taking great pains (aha ha ha) to try to figure out exactly where the discomfort was located (sort of behind the eye sockets, a bit in the forehead above them, and some in the back), comparing and contrasting the sensation to a caffeine headache (very similar, but more intense), and finally giving up, taking a tylenol, having a nap, and waking up feeling much better.

But enough about headaches! Let's discuss more pleasant pastimes. One occupation that will have to come to an end now that school has started in earnest is my gobbling up of science fiction books. One particularly good series I have been reading recently (The Sharing Knife, by Lois McMaster Bujold---thank you,[personal profile] mummimamma, for mentioning that there was a new one out) has struck me because it features a female protagonist who is extremely different from the standard heroine of such novels. See, usually these novels are set in a swords-and-sorcery type of world, where if women are to go on adventures they must cease to be like women and start doing manly things, and a lot of plots are built around the girl-dressing-up-as-a-boy or the out-of-place-girl-who-always-wanted-to-do-fencing-instead-of-embroidery-and-as-such-was-socially-ostracized. Yet in this series, the female character is none of those things: she is brought up learning cooking and sewing and weaving, and she is good at it, and her place in the world as a cook and weaver is valued and important. After all, despite what the covers of fantasy novels would lead us to believe, it's difficult to go hunt monsters without clothes: if you don't have trousers and socks you get saddle sores and blisters, and someone has to wash all those bandages after they've been used on your dragon bites. Usually the traditional gender roles in these sorts of books go hand-in-hand with the traditional values attached to the bearers of those gender roles, but if you're building your own world, there's no need to take them together. Authors often try to separate household activities from the traditionally associated undesirable connotations of femininity by giving cooks and weavers and so forth magical powers that somehow spring from the cooking and weaving. What I like about these books (aside from the very compelling world-building) is that Bujold doesn't even need to do that. Domestic skill in this world doesn't need to have anything special about it to be inherently valuable, and that approach is refreshing.

Another pastime that I will not be giving up because it is the perfect procrastination tool is watching lousy science fiction television series on Netflix. I might have mentioned my delight with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but that has come to an end. I can only take so much dying-and-coming-back-to-life and associated angst before I get bored. The newest delight is Stargate: SG1, which I have only recently discovered is based off the movie Stargate that came out when I was young enough to enjoy it tremendously (although by all critical accounts it was terrible.) I don't, in fact, have any real reason to enjoy it; it's not as good as Star Trek or Firefly, or as imaginative as Heroes, or as charming as early Buffy. It does, however, allow me to be smug about my education. Somewhere out there is a TV audience being catered to who is expected to sympathize with the man-of-few-words warrior who can only wrinkle his brow and go "huh?" when the smart astrophysicist explains that stars move over thousands of years, but the relative difference in position between closer stars is less than the difference between stars that are farther apart. I, on the other hand, fall neatly into the other TV audience, which is expected to laugh at the foolish gun-man and sympathize with the smart astrophysicist, whose carefully scripted explanation sounds just smart enough to make people who follow it feel like astrophysicists themselves. (I also love the moments when people on alien planets speak in not-English, and everyone stares at the anthropologist, while he stares dumbly back at them. It reminds me of my language classes, when the professor says something to me, and everyone stares at me, and an answer is expected, and I don't have it. These moments are becoming fewer, it seems. Apparently, as the season progresses, people on other worlds have started learning English much faster.) Eventually I imagine even my smugness at knowing what electromagnetic radiation is will not be enough to make up for the pretty execrable writing, but for now the ego-stroking and pretty costumes keep me quite happy.

*with truly alarming aura symptoms: the first we learned of it was when he suddenly lost the ability to read and could not remember names of his colleagues, resulting in a night in the emergency room getting CT scans and scheduling MRIs to determine whether he'd had a stroke. Subsequent migraine auras restricted themselves to more respectable flashing lights and tingling hands.

**I love this blogger. Any fan of standard written English (coughaheamMommycough)would tremendously enjoy her treatment of the malopropism "alot". If anyone wants to give me a gift, I would love a mug with the picture and caption "I care about this alot."
philena: (poppies)
Matlab! I have no particular reason to feel that I need it, but some other people in the department do, and they started up a study group, which I decided to join. I am, after all, left to my own devices this summer, and there's no reason not to learn a new skill for free. I hear it is pretty good with "signal processing," which, if I understand correctly, might be a useful tool if I end up doing work with brain waves and electrodes and stuff. I'm not entirely sure I want to do that, though, so for now it's simply a toy, and I am treating it as such. For example, now that I have done a chapter on scripts and if/else statements, I can have the computer respond to your input with suitable responses! In one that I wrote just this morning, I created a randomly-defined variable, and if you then give the right answer to a question, the script will reward you with the first line from one of ten wikipedia articles, depending on the value of the variable. Either it is particularly fond of giving the variable a value between 90-100, or else it simply likes the sentence about pigs, because that is by far the most frequently displayed answer.

Update: In true Mike Slackenerny fashion, I have caged a very nice chocolate chip cookie from the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience's annual bash. I figure I have all the right in the world, because they're right outside my office and making a ton of noise.
philena: (walk)
You have the perfect day. Sometimes it takes a few days (or months or years) to realize that, in retrospect, everything was wonderful. For example: Mr. Philena and I once had a sort of almost-date back about two days before we became a couple. At the time, I remember it was extremely awkward. There were some pauses in the conversation, some suggestions that went wrong, an inconvenient delay in waiting for a table. However, here's what we did:

We went to Woodlawn Avenue and looked at parakeets, which before then I had always believed didn't exist. Then we went to an Ethiopian restaurant up near Belmont, where I had Ethiopian food for the first time in my life, and as I remember it was delicious. After that we were going to get crepes at a crepe place, but since there was no table ready just yet, we went to a books&music store where I bought a CD of Vladimir Vysotsky singing Russian folk songs---a CD I still listen to. Then we went back and had crepes. Now that the memory of the awkwardness dissipated (having largely to do with the resolution of the UST between us), I can look back on the night with undiluted fondness.

Yesterday, however, was perfect all the way through, with no need for any later fuzzying over of the harder edges. It was a Sunday, which I love because the Sunday New York Times is still a treat. We had coffee and oatmeal for breakfast. We then packed bagel sandwiches and home-made cookies and went on a hike through the not-very-interesting-sounding Marin Municipal Water District, but the area which the name represents is in fact the back-side of Mt. Tamalpais, full of hiking trails and lakes and creeks, and, when you get to the top, terrific views of the whole Bay Area. Yesterday the views were particularly good because it was a clear day above about 1500 ft. of elevation, but much of the landscape below that was completely blanketed in a thick fog bank. Hilltops and radio towers showed above it, but not much else. When I'm back on the computer with the pictures on it, I'll post some.  Edit: Here's one! )
After the hike, which was about 10 miles,* Mr. Philena and I went to the little town of Stinson Beach, where we had dinner at the Sand Dollar. Since it was a Sunday night, a live jazz pair played the kind of jazz that I don't mind too much, and that Mr. Philena likes. On the television was game 2 of the NBA finals between (who else?) the Lakers and the Celtics, and somewhere in the second quarter the bartender commented that we had been there last year---at the same table we were sitting at this year. In fact, he was correct: and not only was it during the NBA finals last year (LA and Orlando---Orlando lost), it had also been a post-hike Sunday night, and the same jazz duo was playing. The bartender's memory is unusually good, but the restaurant in general is the sort of friendly place where people know each other and don't feel shy about starting conversations with you even if they don't know you. No fewer than three separate groups started to talk to us about the game when they saw we were paying attention to it, and no one objected to our staying three hours to watch the entirety of it. And to top it off, the Celtics won!


*Temporal update: I am in my summer office as I type this. Professor Hall has just unlocked the closed door behind me to my left and walked in. This would be unremarkable except for the fact that there is a wide open door behind me to my right, maybe 20 feet down from the one she actually chose.

philena: (pie)
  • I have graduated with an MA in linguistics! The advantage of an enormous, faceless, anonymous university is that it is impossible for everyone to graduate at once. At the UofC, there was one commencement ceremony for all undergrads and MAs and PhDs, and it took forever and you had to sit through a lot of names and awards being given to people you don't know. At my current school, however, it is so huge that glomping everyone together like that would result in a 12-hour ceremony, so they divide it up by department. That meant that there was a special Linguistics Department ceremony, and I knew almost everyone and I cared about the awards and I liked the speakers and it lasted just long enough. I was also mentioned by name in the faculty address, when the speaker--Professor Oakes--started off with a lighthearted discussion of how he showed up late that morning, just the way he showed up an hour late to my MA oral exam. Then he apologized. Then he gave a terrific address that kind of addressed all my concerns about life in general, and told me everything I know intellectually, but still needed to hear again. It was the nicest graduation ceremony I've ever been to, although I still think that the silly music they play is silly, especially when the (very short) procession of graduates walks too slowly so there's an extra twelve measures of people standing and waiting for the silly music to end. But the food was good: sushi, guacamole, fruit, vegetables and dip, Mediterranean finger food, champagne, and cake.
  • I have had two weeks of no responsibilities! It's been great. As I mentioned before, I will be working in Professor Oake and Professor Hall's laboratory (unpaid on my own projects, but still with dedicated desk space), but I needed a special key for that to happen. The key didn't come for about two and a half weeks*, so I spent the time doing a combination of baking and television watching.
  • The television watching has been amazing! I have spent the last eight years or so without my own television, so I've been catching up on what I've missed. These include TV shows like "Dexter," (recommended by Melissa), "Dead Like Me" (recommended by my mother), and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (which my mother has been recommending for a long time, and which I always thought was just way too beneath me and unintellectual. However, I gave it a shot, and except for the execrable acting by Angel, it's quite amusing, and full of all sorts of nice fistfights with demons and vampires and stuff. I love Spike. He's quite a brilliant character. A harmless vampire who's all brooding and angsty because he has a soul and feels bad about hurting people and he and his human girlfriend can never have a good life together---that's tiresome. However, a harmless vampire who's all brooding and angsty because he really wants to kill people but has a chip in him that renders him impotent (and yes, they have a good time with that metaphor!) and meanwhile his vampire girlfriend has dumped him for a fungus demon--that's hilarious!)
  • Baking has been less amazing, but probably good for me in the long run. The problem with living with a husband and no one else in a household means that when a recipe goes wrong in an edible-but-not-very-interesting way, there's no one to help eat it, but you feel bad about just throwing it away. So I've been experimenting a little, because as good as chocolate chip cookies and pies are, they get boring after a while. Recently it's been cupcakes, but the last recipe I tried ended up tasting quite a bit like a boxed cake recipe, which usually is not the goal when you're making something from scratch.
  • I've also been hiking! The husband and I have been doing ten-mile-ish hikes every weekend. Two weeks ago we climbed Mt. Olympia (one of the less Mt. Diablo peaks) and saw beautiful late-season wildflowers. Last weekend we climbed Mt. St. Helena, the highest peak in the Bay Area. The hike itself was pretty easy, because the trailhead starts halfway up the mountain, and the majority of the route is a fire trail with a very gentle grade, but the views from the top were beautiful. Here's Mr. Philena: (if you look closely you can see the summit-marker at his feet.)

           This weekend we'll be doing another hike up the north side of Mt. Tam. It should be full of nice redwoods and ferns and maybe some late-blooming rhododendrons.
  • I've been doing more reading of Les Miserables in French! I started it over Christmas break, and I have now finished volume one and started on volume two. In terms of page count I'm probably about halfway done, and I suspect I'll finish it this summer. I tried to read Anna Karenina in Russian with much less success, but perhaps I'll try to keep my Russian up with short stories first, before attempting another doorstop.
  • Mr. Philena and I have been reading O. Henry stories. I, along with every other eight-grader in the country, read "The Gift of the Magi," but I've never read any of his others, and they're all good. Some of them are predictable, but, like a good basketball play, the fact that you see the ending coming doesn't necessarily mean that it's any less successful. So Mr. Philena correctly predicted that the ivy leaf had been painted on the wall, and I correctly predicted that the new servant girl was the missing fiancee from Ireland, and neither of us saw coming that the whole time she couldn't read, but all of the stories work equally well.
  • Lunchtime!

*When Professor Hall emailed me to ask delicately, "So . .  . you planning on coming in this summer?" I explained the problem, and she procured me a key right away. I went to the lab for the first time yesterday and did things like turning on my computer, updating the antivirus which had been languishing untouched for two and half weeks, and reading through a statistics book that I'll be working on this summer. Then she showed up and we chatted about a seminar she'll be teaching next semester (and which I'll be taking), which she is using me as a sounding board to help her prepare for. She gave me a reading assignment: Read this article and tell me the parts that make you go "cool!" That's the best kind of assignment.
philena: (dampskunk)
I passed my MA exam on Friday. Professor Oakes ended up being something like 50 minutes late because he forgot it was at 9:00 instead of 10:00. As it turned out, the extra time to prepare was very helpful. I made some joke last week about having an optional meeting of a research group even though the exam was coming up, because, really, if an extra hour would have made a difference that soon before the exam, I have bigger problems with my degree than simply passing this hurdle. However, it turned out that that extra not-even-an-hour did, in fact, make a difference---perhaps not in terms of cramming, but in terms of reviewing a paper and getting my thoughts about a new field semi-organized so that I could talk about them when asked*. Also, it helps to start the exam knowing that, no matter what happens, I will not have been the first person to screw up.

Also, I finished my MA paper. Professor Dot emailed me last night letting me know that she's ready to sign off on my paper as soon as I fix two typos, and also suggesting that I think about an outlet for publishing it. Yay!

All that remains now is to write my beastly paper for Professor Famous, as well as my far less beastly paper for Field Methods. And grading all those homeworks and exams. And writing up that squiblet thing on bilingualism in Quechua. And--but I think I'll stop now.

*It was really only semi-organized. I didn't fool anyone about actually being an expert. Professor Hall gave me some very nice feedback in which she essentially said that I needed to have a more structured understanding of the field of sentence processing---and it was totally not my fault, because I haven't been able to take any classes in the field recently, but I still need to work on that.
philena: (dampskunk)
Courtesy of [ profile] babylon_poet . Please enjoy*:

*NB: My braid is not actually that long.

philena: (dampskunk)
And the worst part is that it is entirely my fault. I might rant about Professor Famous, but at least when he makes my day miserable, he's the person responsible. I have plausible deniability. I might be unhappy, but that's because I am a victim, not because I'm an idiot.

I can usually rock the victim of circumstances role pretty well. For example, yesterday I was snarked at and probably lost whatever good will the instructor who uses the room right before my 12:00 section ever had for me. She usually runs over by at least five minutes, but that day she was still going strong (or rather, her kids were still going strong on a quiz) well past the end of class. She came out and promised me they'd be done right at 12:10 (the official start time of my section), which is a bit annoying, because it means I can't go in there early and write my agenda on the board and so on, but okay. However, at 12:10 on the dot she still showed no sign of stopping, so I just marched right in. I am not going to take instructional time away from my students because she can't write an exam that her students can finish in time. So I marched in, started erasing the board, and told my students (all of whom were milling around in the hallway with me) to come in after me. It got a bit crowded in there, what with two classes' worth of students crammed into the space that's barely big enough for one, but her students finished up and I didn't lose too much time. She was mad, though, and decided to make it known by saying with a very significant look, "Thank you so much for your patience and flexibility." It was probably designed to be cutting, but I was, as they say, "armed so strong in honesty that her passive agressiveness passed by me as the idle wind."

That's the not-my-fault type of stuff that slides right off. Today, however, it was entirely my fault. For example:

1. I scheduled two people to participate in an experiment I'm running, and then completely forgot to be there, so they showed up at the lab for no reason.

2. I didn't check my email, so I couldn't confirm a meeting with someone else that in the end never took place.

3. I discovered that I made a stupid, stupid error when building my experiment file, so that the entire second block presents the data not randomly, but rather sequentially. This ruins half the data from 20 subjects.

And now I'm writing this instead of preparing for my elicitation session. Grarg.
philena: (рукопись)

  • Seeing policemen in Starbucks with bike helmets hanging at their belts.

  • Seeing the mist just beginning to clear over the Berkeley hills as I bike to campus in the morning. The existence of the hills themselves is not visible yet, but the flashes of sunlight off the windows make sparkles in the drifting fog.

  • My field methods class. Everything about it is wonderful. The professor is smart and friendly and helpful and interested in the class, the other people are smart and good and presenting interesting analyses of the language, the consultants are helpful and friendly and eager to teach us the language, which means that when I recognize what they mean when they say, "ima shutita kangi," and I know that I have to respond, "nyuka shutimi [ profile] philena," I get a big smile.

  • Teaching. You know this comic?
    It's totally true )

  • My bike. I like biking.

  • My office. I mentioned that already, but I still like it.

  • My office mates. They're nice, and they keep me from getting lonely.

  • The people in the office next door. They're nice, they keep me from getting lonely, and they have a tea kettle and a coffee maker and a refrigerator.

  • Holding office hours. This is related to the teaching bullet: I know that the people who come should be the people who need help, not the people who would be doing just fine on their own, but when the latter type come, we can start going into all those issues that are related to the over-simplified story they hear in class that's glossed over before it can get confusing. Like syllables. Syllables are a huge bucket of worms, which the lecturer cannot ignore, so he usually includes the bucket and leaves out the worms. But in office hours we can start going fishing.

  • My phonetic theory class. I absolutely love reading about the approaches that people take to experimentally evaluate a theoretical claim. It just makes so much sense! It's like doing real science, which is kind of a sore spot among linguists.

  • Using all the new software I've installed---namely, the transcriber program, filezilla, for sftp transfers, and the phonetic keyboard that one of my undergrads found online, which makes typing in the IPA way easier. We're going to be starting using FLEX soon. I can't wait! Software is cool!

  • Knowing that the BLS office is up to date. I hate actually going there and doing things, but it's really satisfying to know that I've just sent off a bunch of invoices that will bring us in hundreds of dollars, assuming that our deadbeat client really means to start paying us.I really can't wait to shove that task off onto next year's cohort in May

  • My sister's blog. Have I recommended it before? You should totally read it, if you haven't.

  • This cup of tea that I got from next door.

  • The cats in my neighborhood

  • Mr. Philena

  • xkcd

philena: (Default)
9:00: Field Methods
Yikes! I haven't had a chance to finish the reading for class. Hmm. It seems not to be a problem. C'mon, professor, are hyphens and three-letter name abbreviations really that important? Half the people don't even have middle names!

11: Section for Ling 100
Um. . . I still don't have a watch. Can someone lend me a watch? HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VOICED AND VOICELESS? IT'S THE THIRD WEEK OF CLASS ALREADY! GAH!!Oh dear; I seem to have forgotten the IPA symbol for a voiceless uvular fricative.

Mmm, lunch!

12:30: Phonology
Whee! Syllables!

2:00: Agreement
Eek! The professor I'm TAing for is coming to give a guest lecture! I must impress him with my worthwhile contribution! *discuss discuss oh cool discuss French does this thing discuss does this count as one of Corbett's canonicality diagnostics discuss discuss--Oh, the professor I'm TAing for is about to give his guest lecture. He must have been sitting in that corner there.

Mmm, burrito with Daniel!

6:30: Elicitation session with Quichua speaker
So that's how you say "I will scream"? Could you repeat that? Wait, that's a different form. Oh, they mean the same thing? Really? The extra three syllables of morphology don't make a difference? Okay.

Oh, hello, Field Methods professor. You seem to be wearing spandex biking shorts. What's going on with these different verb morphologies that mean the same thing? Oh, evidential markers and stuff? Things that are really hard to elicit a semantic difference for? Um, great!
philena: (рукопись)
As far as I can tell, it is perfect. There is a card on which to write my name and my office hours and tack up by the door, so undergradlets know that they've come to the right office. There is a desk, securely cemented to the wall with cobwebs, a chair, an extension cord that reaches to a rickety power strip that is plugged into an outlet, and wireless internet access. On the various bookshelves are the remains of Tas from years past, including books, notebooks, multiple copies of Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, grammars of Arabic, Piro-Arawakan, and Kolami, a handbook for Windows NT, elderly packets of swiss mix, and a case of wine from the Napa valley. In my desk drawers there are pens, a paper wrapper with altoids, a wrapped pair of chopsticks, colored pencils, a book entitled "The Korea Handbook," a CD with the tracks labeled in Korean, and a calendar open to April, 2006. Two doors down the hall is the classroom where almost all of my classes meet. I think I'll be very happy this semester.


Aug. 12th, 2009 08:17 am
philena: (цветы)
I started watching it last night. It is amazing. I am agog. I am astonished. I am addicted. Netflix has all of season 1 on the instant viewing. And season 2. And season 3. Hiro is adorable.
philena: (Default)
He has gone away until Thursday for a training workshop in southern California, and I am on my own until then, when I fly down to join him. I helped him load up the car with luggage---both his and mine, which means I'll be able to walk onto the plane with a book and nothing else---and on my way back inside, I noticed that our garden looked beautiful, but a little bit grassy. So I stopped and pulled up some stray tufts of grass that are peeping out amid the mulch laid down between the monkey-flower and dudleya. Invigorated by the five minutes of stooping and tugging, I went inside and noticed that the couch cushions were a bit squashed and uncomfortable, and after stomping them back into shape, I reflected that the tidy new appearance of the couch did not quite match the untidy appearance of the coffee table. Three hours later I realize the dishes have been washed, the bathroom cleaned, the carpets vacumed, the kitchen floor mopped*, my desk neatened, the recycling taken out, the rugs shaken out, the living room straightened, and the shoes lined up and put away. I feel quite accomplished and pleased: when you include the mopping, this kind of cleaning does not happen more than once a year, so I am done until next August. I celebrate with a homemade brownie. (They're quite good. If you stop by for tea, remember to ask for one. I can't possibly eat them all myself.)

I've finished up the Trollope books in the house, and have moved on to Patrick O'Brian. They are lovely. I can easily gobble up one a day if I start in the morning, but often other things like brownie-baking and classes at the LSA institute intervene. My hope is that I can read most, if not all of the series, before school starts again, so that when I have to start doing things like grading Ling 100 homeworks and researching Proto-Bantu in order to get my paper on phonological changes in the history of Nzadi set for publication in the grammar I've been invited to contribute to, not to mention doing my own classwork, I will not be putting everything off in order to learn whether the destruction of the mizzenmast will cause the ship to broach to in heavy seas with a 72 that has the weather-gauge on us following close behind**.

I also bought blue jeans. For the past few days, since we washed them for the first time, I've been prancing around in them and composing little entries in my head about the superiority of men's fashion over women's, the fact that men's clothes have just as many variations in size and style as women's, despite the surface simplicity of the sizing system that women tend to vocally envy, the striking difference between real jeans and fashion jeans, and other reflections on the clothes-purchasing experience, which is so rare in this house that many mornings recently I have not been able to dress without first sewing up awkwardly placed holes in my pants. Now that the keyboard is in front of me, thought, I realize that it is not a particularly interesting topic of discussion for anyone who does not come into daily contact with my lower half, so I will forbear.

Hmm. That last paragraph was quite a conversation-killer, even for a conversation with myself. I'm sure my sister could turn it into something worthwhile. She's a brilliant writer, and everyone should read her blog here. She's in Mongolia, which already gives her quite the head up anything I could post.

Who wants a picture? I have a few )
philena: (Default)
First, I would like to discuss the wonders of coconut milk. See, I was making a pie the other day with lots of fresh berries, and Rombauer* recommended putting a bit of granulated tapioca in with the berries to absorb some of the moisture. So I bought a box of tapioca, but the recipe used only a few spoonfuls, and I needed to do something with the rest of the box. It had a recipe on the back for coconut milk tapioca, so I went out and got some coconut milk, and that used the tapioca nicely, but then I had leftover coconut milk. Today, however, Daniel and I were cooking dinner, and we had some sauteed vegetables that were nice and all, but were going to be very boring. So we threw in a bunch of curry powder and the coconut milk and some dried Thai chili peppers, and WOW! Conclusion: if you have coconut milk and curry powder, they turn every dish of sauteed vegetables into something amazing. Don't be shy, though! Use lots of curry powder (a couple of tablespoons, probably---we didn't measure)and lots of coconut milk. Coconut milk is cheap, too! I'm going to have to start keeping it in the kitchen more often and experimenting with it. I've already tried to make cookies, but they didn't turn out so well: coconut milk essentially does the job of butter, but the flavor lost by omitting butter is not counterbalanced by the flavor added by the coconut milk, so overall they were pretty bland, and the texture suffered.

On to books. I think I've mentioned before that I'm reading Trollope. Well, I've had a lot of work this past semester, and he was a prolific writer, so I'm still reading Trollope. Since I finished school two weeks ago, I've read The Eustace Diamonds, Phineas Redux, and I've started The Prime Minister. The Eustace Diamonds is really a wonderful book. The most obvious comparison is with Vanity Fair---in fact, Trollope makes the reference himself---in terms of flavor and major plot arc, but it is not as earnest or moralizing, and it has a lovely, tight plot arc that stands alone quite well, but still includes all the other major characters from the other Palliser novels, and I think is really quite good. I cannot, alas, say the same of Phineas Finn, which reminds me quite a bit of the second part of Henry IV: the author realized he had a good thing going with one of his characters, and so wrote another book without quite deciding what he was going to do with it.

In Phineas Redux the titular character from Phineas Finn is brought back, but where Phineas Finn had another lovely, tight plot arc with excellent characters, Phineas Redux has a bit of a sprawling plot that doesn't really go anywhere, and so many of the characters that were really strong in the first book spoilers! ) I can only hope that The Prime Minister, which is next, is good. It probably will be: Trollope's original plots tend to be good; it's the ones he makes by rehashing unfinished threads (or even finished threads) from previous books, like the Lily Dale part of The Last Chronicle of Barset, or all of Phineas Redux, where things fall apart.

Aside from cooking and reading, however, I have been hiking! Daniel and I took lots of photographs on our previous hikes, and it would be too complicated to separate the pictures up by date of hike or location, so I will separate them up into

Flowers )

Critters )


Views )

*That is, Irma S. Rombauer, the author of The Joy of Cooking. I have no idea why I refer to that cookbook as if I've spoken to the author, but it's what my mother always did, so it's what I do.
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