28 Feb 2003

I've decided to stop answering

I've decided to stop answering my office phone. I can't remember the last time I got a call for me here, but at least once or twice a day I answer the phone---it's always Lucia's boyfriend, or Dan's girlfriend, or maybe one of Joe's business contacts. Occasionally it's someone else wanting one of them. People who call me generally go straight for the cell phone these days.

So if you're thinking of calling me at the office, don't bother.

Q: How many computational linguists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: Only one, but he has to watch you do it a hundred thousand times first. --Sharon Goldwater

Posted by blahedo at 4:59pm | Comments (0)

27 Feb 2003

Oohoo! One of my major

Oohoo! One of my major pet peeves for a long time, and especially since 9/11 (because it's so much worse) has been so-called "security" measures that don't increase security---either because they screen for something that has already been checked, or because anyone who wanted to avoid them could do so trivially, or because some minor increase in security is purchased at the cost of massive incovenience or intrusion.

And now, someone is running a contest to come up with the world's stupidest security measures. I can't wait to see what they come up with.

Dear Miss Manners: I am not a know-it-all and don't monopolize conversations, but I do contribute some factual knowledge in areas that interest me. Numerous times, I've heard, "How come you know so much?" I'm confident that Miss Manners can suggest a reply that, while not accommodating an apparently peeved attitude, might facilitate social peace.
Gentle Reader: Try "I like to listen to people who know more than I do." Miss Manners suggests following this with a pleasant smile and then a long pause.

Posted by blahedo at 4:00pm | Comments (0)

24 Feb 2003

Walmart comes to rape Palatine

In case you didn't already know, the Village of Palatine has just decided to give Wal-Mart a $3.2 million tax break to get them to move into the old Builder's Square property by Denny's at Rand and Dundee. Here's a short article in the Trib: TIF plan for Wal-Mart decried

Annoyed? Outraged? I am. It would be bad enough if they were simply being allowed to move in; but how much worse that we are giving them $3.2 million in tax breaks for the privilege of destroying the village economy and abusing our low-income workers?

That's a rather bald statement, I know. Let me explain. This will be rather long; bear with me.

Walmart has a history of union-busting. For a company that employs over a million workers, most of them unskilled and at minimum wage, isn't it a little bit surprising that not a single one is unionized? Not for lack of trying, of course. As soon as the very whisper of the word "union" is heard, a cohort of anti-union folks are flown in from Arkansas to harass the organizers and threaten them with losing their jobs. When once, against all odds, the workers in a Walmart butcher shop in Jacksonville, Texas managed to form a union---and two weeks later, Walmart closed that butcher shop and all 179 *other* butcher shops they ran. The NLRB has filed over 40 complaints against Walmart, of which 10 found illegal practices, 8 were settled privately, and the remainder were still pending as of last November. See this New York Times article for further details: Labor Opens a Drive to Organize Wal-Mart

Walmart employees are frequently required to work off the clock. After punching out, their managers make them continue working; if they don't, they will lose their job. One cannot simply blame the managers, of course: they are given a budget and a certain number of things to do; if the things don't get done *or* they go over budget, then *they* lose their jobs. Typically the only way to get everything done within budget is if they require employees work for free for a while. Another tactic for keeping expenses down: they avoid hiring full-time, preferring to hire many part-time workers... to whom they need not give benefits. See this New York Times article for further details: Suits Say Wal-Mart Forces Workers to Toil Off the Clock

There are now a whole lot of small towns in this country that have no significant business aside from the Walmart in town, or even in the next town. Why? Because the Walmart came in and lowered their prices to undercut the existing businesses, then raised them back to normal once all the other businesses had closed. Do you think they won't try the same in Palatine? We don't have to worry about them killing *all* of our other businesses... but I bet they knock out quite a few. And the profits that Walmart gets go straight out of the community. No NYT article here, but a couple different accounts: On Wal-Mart; Lansing board meeting (search for "wal-mart")

There are a number of other objections I have to Walmart. These aren't directly relevant to the question of a Walmart in Palatine, but I feel compelled to list them here anyway: they are the quintessential "box store" and have no local character unless absolutely forced to (Communities force big box retailers to rethink designs, from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel), they employ sweatshop labor overseas (Report on Abuses at Wal-Mart Supply Factories in Lesotho, from the Maquila Solidarity Network), they are the largest music retailer in the country and they censoring that supply (Corporate Censorship: Son of Wal-Mart, from Wired), they stole from a charity and didn't even bother to try to pay them back for it (Donated toys end up on store shelves, from the Boston Globe), they are home to rampant sexual discrimination (Wal-Mart Values, from The Nation)...

And on top of all that, their products are just of low quality (How the 'Big Boxes' Stack Up, from the Washington Post).

Many more links on all of these topics can be found at WalMartWatch . I encourage you to read as many as you have time for---there's a lot there to read.

Now, you might be asking, "but what can I do about it?" The answer is, it hasn't been set in stone, and the Village Council can still decide not to grant the tax break (and in fact, *could* do some zoning tricks to prevent Walmart fom moving in at all). If you live in Palatine, or have some connection to it, visit the village website, find out who your councilmember is, and drop them an email. Explain why you don't want to give $3.2 million to Walmart. Feel free to use some or all of the above language, but remember that they will pay more attention to original letters. Mention this to other people from Palatine---they can contact the council too.

(One thing, though: if you decide to send people email about this, please only send it to other Palatine people! No need to spam everyone else, and letters to the council/mayor from outsiders probably won't hold much sway.)

"All Things Considered, eh? 'The news is next. But first, an awkwardly long interval featuring some bizarre tribal Kenyan mandolin music.'" --Steve Crutchfield

Posted by blahedo at 6:47pm | Comments (2)

23 Feb 2003

I just saw a movie

I just saw a movie entitled Baraka. It's difficult to describe; it's kind of about everything. There are no actors, no lines; just images and a soundtrack. The movie shows a little bit of all aspects of human life and the planet we live on. How we pray, how we eat, how we wage war. A bit of focus on usually-ignored consequences of certain things. It imparts a sense of proportion; we live in this little corner of the world and all our friends lead lives more or less like our own (even the ones that we think of as completely different). But in the grand scheme of things, there's a lot of diversity on the planet, and this movie shows it off. You might think of it as giving time to peoples according to their size: American scenes made up just a few minutes of the movie, while scenes of India and China took perhaps fifteen minutes each. The range of topics it hits is huge.

While it occasionally starts to drag here and there (especially at the end), this movie is surprisingly riveting. This is one of the few movies I've seen where I wish they'd made it for IMAX---and actually, the credits said (part of?) it was filmed in 70mm, so it's not even impossible that they could make an IMAX version. In any case, IMAX or not, seek this movie out. It's worth seeing.

"I'm told that I should never attribute to malice what incompetence will explain, but I'm fairly sure that both are in great supply at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue these days." --Michael Kimmitt

Posted by blahedo at 2:03am | Comments (0)

20 Feb 2003

It's so good to finally

It's so good to finally be working again. Between Christmas and Chambana and intersession and Hawai`i and interviews, I pretty much hadn't gotten anything significant done for two months. Which made it that much harder to get started again---I was staring at the screen, reading notesfiles and web comics obsessively and in a non-multitasking way. Finally, though (yesterday, really), I managed to gain purchase and now I'm back to my old system. Namely, work until I have to wait for something---a download, a compile, a run---and then switch to the notesfiles or comics or whatever until that's done. I've got a compile running as I type this sentence, but I've already switched back and forth between typing this and working three or four times over the course of the post.

So anyway, it really is nice to be back. Now let's see if it's true what I said about it being possible to finish the thesis by mid-May. :)

"Kids are sent off to spend six years memorizing meaningless facts in a world ruled by a caste of giants who run after an oblong brown ball, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. And if they balk at this surreal cocktail, they're called misfits." --Paul Graham

Posted by blahedo at 11:57pm | Comments (0)

19 Feb 2003

In our Renaissance Singers rehearsal

In our Renaissance Singers rehearsal tonight, our director brought her mother-in-law, who is French, to advise us on the pronunciation of one of the songs we're singing. She complimented me on my French pronunciation!

That's all.

"Why do people move to suburbia? To have kids! So no wonder it seemed boring and sterile. The whole place was a giant nursery, an artificial town created explicitly for the purpose of breeding children." --Paul Graham

Posted by blahedo at 10:08pm | Comments (0)

I just spent 45 minutes

I just spent 45 minutes digging out and moving my car from the faculty lot (which is closer to my house) to the student lot. Unlike nearly everyone else around here, I'm still not complaining about the snow. I guess that means I'm well-suited to life in the snow belt, or something.

The weird thing, though, is that the Brown Facilities people shovelled some areas around here in very odd ways. I counted no less than three places where they shovelled a nice path that dead-ended in a huge snowdrift (and it wasn't just plowed in---they just stopped shovelling). Since I rent from Brown, they take care of our front steps; the steps and the walk up to them are totally clear down to the wood and concrete. But the sidewalk isn't cleared, and it looks like the snow removed from the steps and walk was shovelled onto the sidewalk, so looking out my front door I see a little cul-de-sac of cleared pavement. It's actually less snowy to leap over the roadside snowdrift and walk in the street than it is to try and use the sidewalk... but they didn't shovel all the way to the street, so there is still a formidable drift to vault over. From my patio door, they cleared a path down the steps and around back to our basement door (which is bolted from inside and disused). This path does not actually lead anywhere except between two doors to the same house. The driveway between here and 166 was cleared, and at the end a walkway was cleared into the faculty lot out back... except that the path just ends in the trunk of a car (which was parked there when they did the shovelling). Finally, the walkway to the student lot was mostly cleared, except that a huge (seriously, ten feet high, ten feet across) mound of snow that had cascaded off the swim center roof was almost totally blocking the path. There was a shovelled path either side of it; and judging from the way the path ended, the mound had not fallen into a cleared path, they'd just... stopped.

But whatever. It's pretty, and it's fun. I wish it were going to stick around, but judging from the forecasts, it looks like we'll be lucky if it's still here by Friday. Too bad. :(

"[Nerds] were a bit like an adult would be if he were thrust back into middle school. He wouldn't know the right clothes to wear, the right music to like, the right slang to use. He'd seem to the kids a complete alien. The thing is, he'd know enough not to care what they thought. We had no such confidence." --Paul Graham

Posted by blahedo at 6:35am | Comments (0)

18 Feb 2003

Today's entry is a few

Today's entry is a few online essays and articles you should read. Long, but worth it.

First, a report on CNN's manipulation of the American public. It seems they saw fit to edit out part of a transcript without marking it as edited. Seriously, check this one out.

Next, an essay by Paul Graham on why nerds are unpopular, why high school and junior high suck so bad in this country, and what we might think about doing about it. This one's the long one, but bookmark it and come back to it, especially if you are, were, or plan to be a high school or junior high teacher; have, had, or plan to have high school or junior high-age kids; or do, did, or plan to attend high school or junior high. Really.

Finally, on the lighter side, a tandem essay written by two college students. It's fun, and short.

"The American dream is to be born in a gutter, grow up and make *all* the money in the world, stick it in your ears, and go *THHBBBBBTTT!*" --Eddie Izzard

Posted by blahedo at 10:59pm | Comments (0)

16 Feb 2003

Got up early this morning

Got up early this morning to go to Mass at St Brigid's in downtown Lexington. It's a nice little church... no, actually it's a nice big church. Old-style, with the two columns of pews, but it probably seats close to a thousand. Which made it look really empty, but I bet there were about a hundred people there, which isn't bad for an 8:30 Mass. The acoustics are really good, though: even when not standing at a mike, the priest and the other people by the altar could be heard relatively well all through the church. (Unfortunately, the poor cantor wasn't used to dealing with an organ that sat at the back of the church---and it was big enough to have a significant sound delay from back to front of the church---so there were some synchronisation problems.)

The homily was a fairly good anti-war commentary, and among other things revealed to me that Tariq Aziz (Saddam's right-hand guy) was a devout Roman Catholic! I mean, I have been and continue to be against war in Iraq, so this doesn't affect me directly, but why have we not heard that a major leader in this supposedly hyper-Muslim, working-with-al-Qaeda government is a Christian? No... nevermind, I know why.

"Sam, you're not just going to hide a bow in your pants that you can pull out and unload ten shots at someone." --Matt Lease

Posted by blahedo at 11:06am | Comments (0)

15 Feb 2003

Lexington town centre is quite

Lexington town centre is quite charming. But the people here are freaks. We were meeting at Aesop's Bagels (isn't that cute?) for a late lunch; I showed up at about 3:15 and the doors were locked. I checked next to the door and it said they were open until 4... and I looked questioningly at the guy inside, who shrugged and held up three fingers, i.e. they closed at three. I remained puzzled, and he unlocked the door. When I asked why they were closed, he claimed they closed early because of "the weather"---which was sunny and clear. (Laura said later that there was a sheet of paper taped up off to the side that said winter hours were only til 3. It's still weird.)

Then a bunch of us went over to the Bread Company a few doors down. It was about 3:25, and on the sandwich board it said they served them "only until 4pm". But when I tried to order, they said they weren't serving sandwiches anymore... because "the guy who makes the sandwiches already left." What is with these people? Why do they even post hours of business? So odd.

"I really don't like how I look on video."
"I've decided to just get used to it." --Rob Hunter and Mike Attisha

Posted by blahedo at 5:22pm | Comments (0)

14 Feb 2003

Heading up to Lexington for

Heading up to Lexington for a weekend with friends. Looked vaguely at some of my linguistics stuff, but no real progress. I'll come back Tuesday morning in order to get stuff done then, I hope. *sigh*

"Actually, I've gone beyond 'McCarthy!' and straight into 'Mussolini!'"
"Kimmitt deftly avoids Godwin's Law: 2 points." --Michael Kimmitt and Zach Miller

Posted by blahedo at 3:20pm | Comments (0)

12 Feb 2003

I have so much to

I have so much to write about over the last week, but I've spent all evening playing Starcraft and now I'm going to go to bed. The short version: flew out to Minnesota last week to interview at Carleton; got up at 6 Saturday because I promised I'd drive people to the comp at BU---but I just asked Dave to drive my car instead, which he did, leaving me a day to sleep and work (mostly sleep, as it turned out); flew out to Ohio on Sunday for an interview at Wooster, and then flew back last night. The snow seems to follow me around---every place I interviewed, it snowed while I was there, and in two of the places it was unusually heavy for that area. Suits me fine, I like the stuff. And it's amazing what airplanes can take off and land in these days.

To sign off, I'll give a link to another blog, run by language hat. Lots of little linguistic tidbits, right up my alley. (And he seems to have found my blog, and referenced it when I tiraded on the pronunciation of "nuclear" last week. :)

"As for your second question, we must point out that, scientifically speaking, animals always do it for fun. The only critters who do it because they have to are Catholics." --Cecil Adams

Posted by blahedo at 1:32am | Comments (0)

5 Feb 2003

I've been downloading more stuff

I've been downloading more stuff for my Mac, and it is so sweet. In addition to uControl and Virtual Desktop, I grabbed WeatherPop (which displays the current temperature and weather in my menubar, with a pull-down showing the 5-day forecast) and PTHiTunesNotifier (which lets me make hotkeys for playing, pausing, and forward-skipping iTunes, as well as popping up a little semi-transparent window with the name of each new song that comes on, and a hotkey to let me pop that up again at will). And in a fit of virtuosity, I went ahead and registered VirtualDesktop and WeatherPop, as well as OmniWeb (which last I've been meaning to register for well over a year now).

And I finally got some reading done to get back into my linguistics stuff. It's hard, starting up again after a two-month hiatus. Well, I'm going to be spending four hours on a plane tomorrow (to Northfield, MN, to interview at Carleton), maybe I can get something done then.

"Our English language is, after all, the end product of an informal committee made up of several hundred million people over the course of several centuries, and it shows." --Evan Morris

Posted by blahedo at 2:02am | Comments (0)

4 Feb 2003

Ok, for a long time

Ok, for a long time my biggest linguistic pet peeve was when people would carelessly write "Ghandi" instead of "Gandhi" (compounded by the fact that they usually didn't even care). This has now been totally eclipsed by all the idiots out there—YES YOU ARE IDIOTS—who persist in going on and on about how dumb the President is for being unable to say the word "nuclear".

There are excellent linguistic reasons why people (and it's a whole lot more people than just the President) do this. The process is called metathesis, and it is one that happens in many languages. It tends to happen where the reversed syllable ends up making the word easier to pronounce—in the case of "nuclear", the standard pronunciation has a front vowel between two back vowels, but the metathesised version has all back vowels. Another commonly-cited example in English is the word "comfortable", where the T and R are switched, allowing the following schwa vowel to drop out entirely and reducing the word to three syllables. Crucially, this is a regular phonological process affecting speakers of many languages, and not something that is indicative of intelligence.

It bothers me most, though, because there are so many totally legitimate things to bash the President for, many of which do impugn his intelligence (others his ethics, morality, and wisdom); calling him on how he pronounces one word makes it look like we need to grasp at straws. We really really don't.

"And as with most things I bet the truth is somewhere in the land of moderation. Milk and meat won't kill you, lack of milk and meat won't kill you, milk and meat have some good things for you in them, and they also have some bad things for you in them. Your mileage and your diet may vary and don't forget to exercise." --Zach Miller

Posted by blahedo at 1:48am | Comments (0)

3 Feb 2003

Just did my taxes for

Just did my taxes for the year. OY GEVALT it's a pain in the ass to file 1040---which I had to because of some of my mutual funds dividends. Thing is, even though the tax difference amounts to a few bucks, I still had to file a Schedule D and the full 1040... anyway, it still only took a couple hours, so cheapskate me feels justified in filling it out myself. I'm already dreading next year, though, when I will have to file for income from two states, probably with the same mutual funds dividends, and estimated tax (I'm not even trying to estimate for the RI tax, but might as well for the US tax), and conceivably even a house purchase. If I buy a house wherever I end up this year, you better believe I'm hiring an accountant to do my 2003 taxes.

"Give a man a fire and you'll keep him warm for a day. Light a man on fire and you'll keep him warm for the rest of his life." --Terry Pratchett

Posted by blahedo at 11:12pm | Comments (0)

Well. Today Matt and I

Well. Today Matt and I went through our fridge and freezer, claiming what was ours (or at least what we'd eat), and pitching everything else, and cleaning. There wasn't anything really gross in there, but there were definitely some items I suspect of being upwards of two years old. Clean now, though.

Also today, I discovered two really nifty, useful little programs for my tiBook. One is uControl, which lets me turn my capslock key into a control key, which makes much more sense. I mean, come on, when was the last time you used the caps lock key? And yet it sucks up valuable keyboard real estate right there where my pinky finger sits, while I have to contort my hand to hit the control key, which I use all the time. Sun keyboards did it right, but they never hit the mass market. Anyway, that's fixed now.

The other I found because I was looking for a way to get "focus-follows-mouse", that is, the keyboard sends input to whatever window the mouse cursor is in. Not the way it's normally done in Windows or on the Mac, but common in the Unix/X world; and once you're used to it, it's super convenient. Sure, you can bring forward a window if you want—but if you just want to type into it, you don't need for that window to block some other window you're using. Anyway, I got a few pointers to VirtualDesktop, but its variety of focus-follows-mouse also brings the window forward when the mouse merely passes over it, which is jarring and not useful to me. But I got it (and paid for it) anyway, because its main function is to be a really slick multiple-desktop manager: meaning that I can have nine (or however many) virtual desktops in the background, and not all my windows need to be on the screen at once. This program is really, really well put together.

Also, Howard Dean is as cool as ever.

"You voted for Perot?? I voted for Bush, but I was insane then. That's different." --Kelly Martin

Posted by blahedo at 12:48am | Comments (0)

2 Feb 2003

I've just edited a notestring

I've just edited a notestring off the IMSA notesfiles in which I gave an account of my week living and teaching there. You can read it here.

"Honestly, I really wouldn't care if the rich kept getting richer, if only they weren't such assholes about it." --Sam Walker

Posted by blahedo at 3:18am | Comments (0)

1 Feb 2003

Well, we've now had our

Well, we've now had our second shuttle explosion. As I think about it, it was inevitable: they had run over a hundred missions, and the law of large numbers came up and bit them. We can only hope that this will cause a full review of procedures and such, to lower the chances of this ever happening again; that's one of two possible outcomes. The other is that the space program is essentially cancelled, or at least left to be completely underfunded (even moreso than it already is), which would amount to the same thing.

I'm actually really encouraged by Bush's little speech this afternoon. It was an excellent speech, and it made me confident that whatever else is on his scary agenda, cutting the space program is not his plan. Indeed, I got the impression that he intends to fund it even more. Perhaps he's young enough to have caught the idealistic man-reaching-for-the-stars bug that swept the youth of the nation during the 60s space race. The older generation of that time saw the space program as a lot of things---a tool, a race, a battle---but growing up with space travel as an achievable reality engenders a completely different view towards the space program, I think.

And if we use this to prod us into beefing up NASA, developing a next-generation shuttle, returning to the moon and reaching for Mars, well, then at least we can find a silver lining in the tragedy.

"Look -- Switzerland has twice as many guns as we do; Japan is far more of a pressure cooker; and Northern Ireland has been fighting a low-level civil war for the past 50 years. All of them have lower rates of homicide than the US. At some point, there's got to be a cultural difference." --Michael Kimmitt

Posted by blahedo at 5:26pm | Comments (0)