Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Google again!

Is there any end of things you can learn by using Google? Today I discovered that Language Log has an apparently extensive series of posts about lolcats, bringing together two of my interests (linguistics and lolcats) in a beautiful, beautiful way! Thanks to slate.com, whose somewhat outdated slide show on lol* had all kinds of links. I'm gonna have to start reading Language Log more frequently...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Six-Word Memoir: Round Two

For some random reason last night, my mind decided to continue to work on the six-word memoir situation. To get you up to speed, first look at the blog post where I put my previous attempts. And see Linden's post on the topic, which explains the phenomenon better than I bothered to.

Here are some new ones:

(1) SWF seeks tenor, baritone, or bass.

I rather like this one. Those who know me will know that I like men who can sing, and it plays on the well-known personal ad genre.

(2) Displaying talents, hoping to conceal flaws.

This one is certainly true, but a bit of a downer.

(3) She finds the world is small.

I think this might be my favorite one so far. Perhaps I'll keep this one as my official, official version. At least for a while.

So, I guess it's time to tag some people:
1. Red at Adventures of a Red Head
2. Trish at Scot in Salt Lake City
3. Amber at Am-ber-gu-i-ty
4. K* at Pura Vida

You'll notice my tagging list is shorter than most... I kept it to people that I thought might really enjoy this.

Friday, April 25, 2008

How to learn things on the Internet

Step 1: Go to icanhascheezburger.com to see some lolcats.
Step 2: After having seen the new lolcats on ICHC, you desire to see more. Head on over to cuteoverload.com.
Step 3: Surf Cute Overload and watch a couple of videos, including this redonk video with kitties looking at stuff.
Step 4: Continue surfing cuteoverload and watch this video where a cat is playing with a theremin.
Step 5: Wonder what a theremin is and google it.
Step 6: Read the excellent Wikipedia article on the subject.
Step 7: You have now learned what a theremin is.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Inspired by spam

I deal with a relatively large number of spam e-mails a day. Generally I just quickly scan my spam boxes and delete spam multiple times a day. Today I thought I would let them pile up over the course of a day or so and then use the words to write a "poem". Enjoy! All of the words that appear in the poem below occurred in either the sender or subject of spam that I got today.


Soaked in fashion,
She knows well our worldwide spring.
Large vitamins suffer.
You are wanted.
She watches all clean trends;
Your fake obligation here

Try it yourself! Spam poems are fun.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Corpus Linguistics at its best

I just found about the Facebook feature called Facebook Lexicon (warning: you'll have to be logged into Facebook for this link to work). It's a search feature that counts the number of times certain words occur on walls all over Facebook. I daresay the great majority of those Facebook users out there who are using Lexicon don't even know they're doing corpus linguistics! Tee hee!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Update on my last post

I had forgotten earlier to search snopes.com. As usual, they have an article on this topic:

Deadly Imaginings

They say they haven't found any evidence to substantiate the story either. Interesting.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Searching for the truth...

Occasionally I remember a story that I read one time while in fourth grade or so about a man who got trapped in a refrigerator railroad car and documented his process of freezing to death in the car. The irony is that the car wasn't refrigerated at the time; he died of thinking that he was going to freeze to death. Tonight I did some Internet searching to find out whether this is a true story. So far, I have only come up with the following two accounts:
Account 1
Account 2

Neither of these accounts quotes a source, although they are similar in their details. Maybe it's time to write to The Straight Dope on this one.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Just got back from the eye doctor...

...and I decided to take some pictures of myself wearing the temporary dark glasses they give you so you won't be blinded because your eyes are dilated.

I was reminded about something I read a long time ago about how women used to use nightshade as a cosmetic. Apparently nightshade causes the eyes to dilate (duh, it's poison) and apparently people's eyes will naturally dilate when they are looking at something they are interested in. So women with the nightshade-dilated eyes would look at men, and the men would think the women were interested, which made the men more interested. Wow.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


... is the mother of Praat scripts.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Decisions, decisions

My cell phone. Friend. Music Player. Companion. Umbilicus to the outside world.
So my mom's cell phone is definitely dying. For example, sometimes the screen doesn't work. Therefore, we went to the cell phone store about a week ago to get her a new phone. She decided to wait until next month to get a new phone because she found out that she can get a much better deal plus a rebate if she waits to get a new phone (it's Verizon's New Every Two program or whatever they call it.) So we left the store without a new phone for her...

...but I found out that I can get a new phone in June if I want with the same sort of discount+rebate deal and I have to admit that some of the new phones they have look pretty sweet.

Is my current phone broken? No. Does it function well for everything I've used it for so far? Yes. But when you click on the links you might see why I'm drooling a bit over the possibilities.

Here are the two phones I'm considering: LG enV and LG Voyager.

The enV is definitely more in my price range -- with the rebate it will be about $80 net cost to me. The Voyager is quite a bit more (to the tune of $200 more, I think) but it is so sweet -- it's like an iPhone but even better because it has a QWERTY keyboard inside. (I actually tried iPod Touch for the first time at the Apple store in New York when I was there a little while ago and I found it somewhat difficult to be able to type using the on-screen keyboard; I kept getting the wrong letter because the on-screen keys were too small or my fingers were too big.) If I understood the cell phone salesman correctly, LG is going to be coming out with an upgraded model of the enV pretty soon...

Not that the Motorola E815 that I have now has anything wrong with it. I'm pretty satisfied with the phone.

*Sigh*. Decisions, decisions.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Science and faith.

I used to spend a lot of time on Yahoo! Answers, and because religion is a topic of interest to me, I sometimes looked at the questions that were being asked in the Religion and Spirituality category. Common statements there go something like this: "How can people believe in religion since science doesn't have evidence of God?" "You can't prove that there is a God." "Are people who believe in religion just idiots that don't believe in science?" "You must be crazy to think there is a God."

Personally, I find the opposition between science and religion to be a false conflict. I believe it is completely possible to be both a scientist and a person of faith. In fact, I consider myself to be both. So this blog post is my attempt to set the record straight and explain why faith and science are not contradictory, and why it's completely ok to be a scientist and a person of faith.

1. Faith and science have a lot in common.
I would argue that one goal that both religion and science have in common is to help people find truth: truth about the way the universe works and our place in it. It is simply that the methods used by religion and science to find truth are different (but not really, as you will see in my next point).

Science proceeds according to the scientific method, a process by which we form hypotheses and then do experiments to support or disprove those hypotheses. This is actually a slow way to make progress in our discovery of truth, since it is not possible to prove a hypothesis by the scientific method, only support it or refute it. The only possible way to prove a hypothesis would be to satisfactorily disprove all others. But in the practical world this is impossible: there is always the possibility that a new hypothesis will come along that explains things better than the ideas we have now. As scientific investigation continues, we come closer and closer to understanding truth basically by process of elimination of hypotheses that don't explain things and by refining and testing hypotheses in the hopes that they will explain things. It would be a poor scientist indeed who continued to hold to a hypothesis after it had been shown not to be predictive or helpful. There is almost always something to criticize about the methodology of an experiment or the theory on which it is based; correctly operationalizing constructs that we are trying to measure is a difficult intellectual and practical challenge. And so science lumbers on, ever coming closer to understanding truth, but unable to aim at it directly.

In matters of faith, too, finding truth is the goal. It's simply that the methods are different. Through faith we can learn truth directly from the Holy Ghost, a process that is difficult to describe but no less real because it is difficult to describe. In this way, faith is a much more direct and immediate way to learn truth than scientific investigation, but they still share the common goal. The Bible teaches, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." (Matthew 7:7-8)

It seems to me that a real seeker of truth and knowledge should be open to truth whatever the source. Indeed, it is a teaching in my religion that our faith includes knowledge of academic subjects. For example, the following is a revelation given by the Lord to Joseph Smith: "And set in order the churches, and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people." (D&C 90:15)

Researchers will admit that there are other kinds of research through which study can be done in addition to experimental(scientific) research. For example, there are methodologies such as quasi-experimental methods, action research, ethnography, and so forth. Why not add faith to this list?

2. The kind of evidence we have for scientific and religious truth is similar.

I believe that one of the main problems that people have with matters of faith is that they are so personal. We live in a society that has been educated to look for "cold hard fact", and people are uncomfortable with matters of faith because, to accept truths we learn through faith, we often have to start with a foundation of the testimony of others, and then experience it for ourselves. We are skeptical of the testimony of others and would like to be able to see some sort of hard evidence that religion is true. But I would argue that science is based on a foundation of testimony as well.

Take, for example, the situation of getting some sort of scan, such as an x-ray, an MRI, or an ultrasound. Surely, there is sophisticated technology involved in these scans. But the culmination of the scan is when a radiologist or other trained person reads the scan and interprets it and explains what it means. For example, a pregnant friend of mine recently had an ultrasound through which she learned that the baby is going to be a boy. She later showed me the picture after which the health care worker declared that he was a boy. To me, it looked like a bunch of black and white blobs, and I couldn't discern the part of the picture that would indicate that it was a boy. But I am not trained to read ultrasounds, and I have no doubt that the person who is trained to read them is able to interpret them correctly. In this way, our belief in the "fact" of her baby's sex is actually based on the testimony of another person.

No matter how much our technologies improve for processes of data collection or how sophisticated our statistical methods for analyzing the data we collect, in the end, every scientific experiment needs to be interpreted by a person. The scientist analyzes the data and makes a conclusion about whether the hypothesis is supported or not supported. Someone has to read the display on the mass spectrometer, or on the super collider, or on the telescope, or on the voltage meter, or whatever instrument we are using. Then this person writes a scientific paper in which he/she interprets the results. In this way, we are very much depending on the testimony of that person that the hypothesis was supported. The only other way to get scientific knowledge is to be the observer directly and do the interpretation ourselves.

In a very similar way, then, science and faith come down to a matter of testimony. Whether I trust in the testimony of others or experience it for myself, the processes of "collecting" truth are similar. And then I write a scientific paper to share what I have learned with others, or I share it in church or by bearing testimony in some other appropriate setting.

Of course, one important criterion for a good scientific experiment is that it be replicable. If an experiment is well-designed, it should be reliable enough that other researchers will be able to get similar results by performing a similar experiment. But even after that process, those researchers will then bear testimony (through scientific publication or dissemination) that the results of their experiments were similar and also supported the hypothesis. The more people have the chance to examine the data, the more people have the chance to interpret it for themselves, but it is always a matter of interpretation. Matters of faith can also be held to this replication standard. Moroni taught: "And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." (Moroni 10:4-5)

And thus I feel that it is false to accuse faithful people of being weak or crazy because we believe personal experiences or the testimony of others. It seems to me that these are really the only possible ways for us to experience things in our lives. Every experience we have is filtered by our perception in some way. I think it occurs to many people that it is completely possible that our perception could be different from that of other people. I have heard things, for example, like "Have you ever wondered if your red is someone else's green?" and wondered them myself. It is not possible to escape our individual perceptions in this life. In this way, then, it seems to me that the testimony of others is very important. It is easier to believe something if you discover that someone else had the same experience. For example, if I see something unusual, I will be more likely to trust what I saw if someone else says he/she saw it too. The more scientists stand behind a hypothesis, the more trustworthy it is. Likewise, the more people who bear testimony about a principle of doctrine and share their faith that they know it is true, the more evidence we have to trust it. Other than personal direct revelation from God, believing the testimony of others is a source of reliable knowledge.

And so, I argue that, while faith has only personal experience and the testimony of others to support its teachings, so does science. What makes a scientific theory "true" is basically whether it is supported by a large number of people in the field. When I teach classes at my university, I am teaching hypotheses and theories that are the current state of understanding of the field at the time. It will not be surprising in 20 or 30 years when the hypotheses we believe and teach are quite different. The truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ do not change. But I learn them in the same way: by experiencing the presence of the Holy Ghost directly, and/or by hearing the teachings and testimony of others. So science cannot criticize faith for depending only on these sources of knowledge; they have the same standard.

I am proud to belong to a church that encourages its members to seek truth wherever we can find it. For example, Brigham Young taught: "Every art and science known and studied by the children of men is comprised within the Gospel." (Teachings of Presidents of the Church, Brigham Young, 194). The only source of conflict between science and faith is a false conflict believed by those who, in my opinion, do not truly understand how science actually works.

And what of those who claim that there is no evidence that there is a God? Even before the coming of Christ Korihor put a similar concern to the prophet Alma:
"And now Korihor said unto Alma: if thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words. But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator." (Alma 30:43-44)

There is nothing wrong with believing in something that can't be seen. Scientists everywhere believe in things like quarks, which are very difficult to measure because they are so small. Social sciences like psychology and linguistics struggle to operationalize things in the mind because it is impossible to observe mind directly; we have to observe it through behavior. But this does not stop scientists from believing in mind. Likewise, even if a person has not seen God, there is no harm in believing in Him. The truth of that belief will lead you in the right direction.

I testify that God exists, and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Six-Word Memoir: Round One

I was invited by Linden to write a six-word memoir. It's kind of a large task: summing up your life in six words. As I lay in bed last night before I went to sleep, I thought of a couple of possibilities:

(1) Debbie said she's a good egg.

This one fits the criterion of six words, and I like the generally cryptic nature of it, since this is a memoir that only a couple of people, mostly Erin, would get. But it only summarizes recent happenings in my life, not my life and personality as a whole.

(2) I came, I saw, I conquered.

This one also consists of six words, but it's not really a summary of my life, just a familiar phrase.

(3) Blessed girl should relish her opportunities.

This one smacks more of advice than memoir.

That's what I've come up with so far. I'm not ready to make my final choice of any of the above as my official six-word memoir. I'll keep thinking.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Good times.

My grandfather was hard of hearing and always wore hearing aids as long as I could remember. When we had family dinners, he and I had a joke we would do together. It went like this:

Me: Grandpa, I hear you got a new hearing aid. What kind is it?
Grandpa: (looking at wrist) Oh, about 2:30.

We thought it was hilarious, even when we did it more than once.

Monday, April 7, 2008

English-language Imperialism: Thoughts from the Trenches

This is my response to Tove Skutnabb-Kangas' presentation as part of the session called "Imagining Multilingual TESOL", presented on Friday, April 4 at the 42nd Annual TESOL Convention and Exhibit in New York City.

To summarize Tove's presentation, he basically criticized the concept of English as a lingua franca, pointing out that it has other roles, such as propagating English-speaking pop culture, representing the economic power of English-speaking countries, and replacing other languages (namely Spanish and German) as the language of scholarship. He pointed out that all articles in TESOL Quarterly are printed in English, etc. etc.

This is a good issue for us TESOL professionals to remember. There is no doubt that English is becoming very popular and gaining and maintaining power in the world, leading to so-called imperialism of the English language. In that sense, those who teach English are part of the machine that promotes the power of this language. And, after all, if you consider that no language is better than any other (which is one of the principal tenets of linguistics) then there is no reason that English should be privileged in this way and that other languages should decline, their richness with them.

As a teacher of pronunciation I often lamented that I got to teach the pronunciation class where I helped ESL students to learn to be more comprehensible, but I never got to teach the listening class where I taught native speakers how to understand non-native speakers better. It often felt one-sided to me that non-native speakers should be expected to do all the work. Of all languages, it's pretty clear that native speakers of English do not have the language in their back pocket; that is, it would be hard to argue that non-native speakers have less of a right to use the language than they do. So why should the non-native speakers be the ones who have to do all the work, instead of their interlocutors meeting them halfway?

And yet there is the other side of the argument: why should we refuse to help people have access to the language of power? Since English is a language of the economic, political and cultural movers and shakers in this world, wouldn't it be doing a disadvantage to our students if we refused to teach it to them? Wouldn't that just be a way to keep people who didn't happen to be native speakers down? That would certainly seem unjust as well. (And quite futile, actually, since enterprising people everywhere have a way to do what they want...)

I suppose it doesn't bother me too much that English is used as the lingua franca of the TESOL community -- after all, we are a group of people who define ourselves by our alignment to the teaching of that particular language. It would only make sense that it would be the best language in which to conduct TESOL's business because it is the one language that we know everyone in the profession can use. To Tove I would also point out that his own presentation (and many others at TESOL) was being simultaneously interpreted in ASL. To me this undermines the argument that English is so privileged in our profession.

On the campus where I work, it is pretty clear that professors and administrators expect the ESL program to help students prepare to do academic work in English and be able to communicate in a way that won't hinder them while doing that work. And why shouldn't they? After all, universities are institutions that are set up to judge people on their ability to do work of a certain level. It's just that it doesn't occur to them to define ahead of time, I guess, what level of English constitutes acceptable work to them. It seems to me that a big part of studying at the university level is learning how to use language in an academically acceptable way. Why otherwise would we require students to take writing classes and do so many assignments and essays in their classes? It seems to me that a strong part of university education is continuing language acquisition, and that the successful student will acquire the language skills and patterns that help to identify him/her as a member of a certain discipline (i.e. psychology students will write and speak like psychologists, engineering students will write and speak like engineers, etc.) In a very real sense, learning to use language in a way that a certain group does makes you part of the group.

So I guess, in my perfect world, education would come from both sides. While continuing to teach students English and help them have access to the language of scholarship and power, I would also hope that we could spread the message to those who happen to already be native speakers of the language. People outside the discipline of linguistics are generally unaware of basic principles of sociolinguistics and language acquisition as they apply to non-native speakers who are attempting to learn and use academic English. It seems to me that as we continue to educate academia on these points, the expectations of the academic world will become more reasonable. And we will finally meet in the middle.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Start spreadin' the news...

Here's my first ever travelblog! That's because it's the first time I ever went anywhere since I got a blog that was cool enough to blog about. I spent most of the last week in New York City. I came for the TESOL convention, but, as you'll see, I squeezed in quite a bit of fun.

The first night I was there C and I took a walk through the Battery Park area. In this picture you can also see the Hudson and some of the Jersey skyline.

We checked out the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The weather was windy and rainy but we had a great time.

We took a picture of me in front of the New York Stock Exchange for my dad, since he loves the stock market. Also C lives just the next block over from there.

See the man in the blue coat on the right? His name is Claus. After we took this picture in Verdi Square, we talked to him. He told us that he came to New York in 1941 when he was nine years old and now he and his twin brother have apartments in the same building on the upper west side. Such a cool guy. I have to say I was also really impressed with C when we met him, because she obviously really cared for him and wasn't just treating him nice to be patronizing. She said that if someone met her grandfather she hoped people would be nice to him. Thank you so much for being a good example.

Just to prove that I really did go to TESOL, here's a photo that I took of a panel at the convention. From left to right, we've got Denise Murray, MaryAnn Christison, Kathleen Bailey, David Nunan, Michael McCarthy, and I don't know who the other person is...

This picture is pretty self explanatory...

Other factoids about my trip:
Chinese restaurants I ate in: 2
Black-and-white cookies eaten: 2
Temple sessions attended: 1 (Manhattan New York temple, so cool!)
Subway trips I took: I didn't count, but maybe about 12
Taxi trips I took: 1 (if it were up to me, it would have been zero, but K didn't want to negotiate the subway with her luggage on the way to Penn station)
Times I put my name into the Wicked lottery: 1
Times I lost the Wicked lottery: 1 (Oh well, there's always next time!)
Floor our hotel room was on: 22
Number of hot dogs eaten: 0 (next time, next time)

I had a great time.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

More Questions

1. What time did you get up this morning? 7:45ish
2. Diamonds or pearls? neither?
3. Last movie you saw in the theater? Can't even remember. It's been a while.
4. What is your favorite TV show? Based on what I watch the most, Scrapbook Memories.
5. What do you usually have for breakfast? A bread or roll and cheese in the car, or a bowl of granola.
6. What is your middle name? don't got one
7. What food do you dislike? olives aren't my favorite
8. What is your favorite CD at the moment? Haven't listened to a CD in about a week. (I was on a trip.)
9. What kind of car do you drive? Toyota Corolla
10. Favorite sandwich? Lots of them. Tuna is good. Cucumber, tomato and sprouts is good. Lots of mayo.
11. What characteristics do you despise? showing off
12. Favorite item of clothing? my new pashminas!
13. If you could go anywhere in the world for a vacation where would you go? I have a few things on the list.
14. What color is your bathroom? No particular color. Same as the rest of the house, pretty much.
15. Favorite brand of clothing? Meh.
16. Where would you retire? Wherever. I've been pretty happy any place I've lived. I feel like I could live just about anywhere.
17. Most memorable birthday? It was my birthday when I flew by myself to Mexico City to study Spanish for about two months.
18. Favorite sport to watch? Football, basketball, volleyball are all good
19. Furthest place you are sending this? Don't know... you tell me!
20. Who do you expect to send this back to you? Write a blog post and tell me about it.
21. Person you expect to send it back first? No idea. Linden, perhaps?
22. Favorite saying? Tee hee, :), :D, meh, probably a lot more....
23. When is your birthday? June 26
24. Are you a morning person or a night person? I am more productive if I get up early, but I find it easier to stay up late.
25. What is your shoe size? 40
26. Pets? Not currently.
27. What did you want to be when you were little? An obstetrician
28. What are you today? tired but happy
29. What is your favorite candy? dark chocolate, M&Ms
30. Your favorite flower? daisies, iris, lilac, pretty much anything but roses (I know, I'm the weirdest girl ever)
31. What is a day on the calendar you are looking forward to? My dissertation proposal defense, hopefully to happen this semester
32. What are you listening to right now? a news TV program
33. What was the last thing you ate? a cookie
34. Do you wish on stars? no, but I like looking at them
35. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Aquamarine
36. What is your pet peeve? When people ramble on about random information to make themselves look smart. Probably because I do it all the time.
37. Last person you spoke to on the phone? my mom
38. Do you like the person/people you are sending this to? blogstalkers welcome!
40. Favorite restaurant/bar? The Olympian
41. Hair Color? blond
42. Favorite day of the year? I like fall...
43. What was your favorite toy as a child? hard to remember. I do remember that one Christmas I wanted a giant teddy bear and I got one. That was sweet. I used to make little recordings of me reading books and stuff, so probably the recorder and the record player.
44. Summer or winter? Fall. Didn't you read the question two questions above? ;)
45. Hugs or kisses? Yes, please.
46. Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate
47. Do you want your friends to e-mail you back? Write it on your blog. I'm not really into the chain e-mail thing.
48. When was the last time you cried? Can't quite remember. I don't cry very often.
49. What is under your bed? A ladder I can use to escape in case of fire
50. Who is the friend you've had the longest? Liz, I guess.
51. What did you do last night? Went to a temple session, caught the last part of a concert/master class at Julliard, and went to dinner.
52. Favorite smell? I like lots of smells.
53. What are you afraid of? pleading the 5th on this one
54. How many keys on your key ring? lots. Too lazy to count them right now.
55. How many years at your current job? Hard to explain... let's just say 6
56. Favorite day of the week? Sundays are good
57. How many states have you lived in? Of the United States of America? 1
58. Do you make friends easily? I'm usually pretty friendly.
59. How many folks will you send this to? Let me know if you read it!