Monday, November 27, 2006

Watson, P.J. & Jones, A. (2006, Nov. 27). MySpace is the Trojan Horse of Internet Censorship. Accessed 11-06.

According to this article, Rupert Murdoch is trying to use MySpace to control the Internet...I think he's considering using MySpace to prevent his media empire from collapsing- but, what do I know? People use these things for all kinds of things. And what are they using Second Life for? Besides making money, I mean.

It's back from vacation for us. Control of the internet- that's the theme of our media class. Students have interesting weblogs and the comments are starting. I welcome them (you), by the way, to mine, although they (you)'ll have to read English to even get this far! Want something else to read? Come visit the personal weblog, or read about chat...

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

on Chomsky

Knight, C. (2003). Noam Chomsky: Politics or science? What Next? Marxist discussion journal 26, 17-29. Accessed 11-06.

An interesting history of Chomsky's revolution, and how Chomsky's politics dovetails with his extremist overthrow of the field of linguistics. Here is the section I'm chewing on:

"According to Chomsky, we must choose between one of two mutually exclusive theroretical possibilities. One is that language is 'external' to the individual. If that were the case, the child acquiring language would need repetititve training and motivation through external punishments and rewards. Rejecting this, Chomsky's alternative is that language is 'internal'. The child's pre-installed, genetically determined knowledge of language can simply be allowed to 'grow.'

I'm not sure "we must choose..."

and, if I had to choose, I would choose the first alternative. It may be behaviorist, and that may be a bad word (once I was called that in a fit of rage)...but language is full of repetitive training, external punishments and rewards. However I will save my proof, or discussion, for later. I recommend this reading for anyone trying to get a handle on what has happened in linguistics in the last 50 years or so.


Friday, November 24, 2006

My band, the Parsley & Sagebrush Band, is playing at the Yellow Moon Cafe in Cobden, IL, only about fifteen miles down the road. Cobden is a small, peaceful town with a lot of stars and a Mexican grocery store. Hope you'll join us- Saturday night at 8:00 pm!


Sunday, November 19, 2006

here & there, virtually

Education IT Blog (2006, Nov. 17). Software to ID age, gender of writer. ZD Net. Accessed 11-06.

Koerner, E.F.K. (1994). The anatomy of a revolution in the social sciences: Chomsky in 1962. Dhumbadji 1, 4, Winter, 3-17. Accessed 11-06.

Rice, E. (2006, Mar.). How to Learn about Second Life. Accessed 11-06.

Wired News (2006, Oct.). Second Life: Destinations. Accessed 11-06.

Reynolds, P. (2001). A chat in the hat. FableVision. Accessed 11-06.


Friday, November 17, 2006

out and about the virtual world

postcards from northern illinois university- about what an innovative teacher at niu is doing, and the use of Second Life in education. Read down the post (the blog itself is from Harvard; the writer spoke with Aline Click, but the post mentions an ESL teacher who is unnamed).

virtual photo album of northern's Altgeld Hall (remember, all four, Northern, Eastern, Southern and Western have one, apparently)...

Read about crowdsourcing: getting large numbers of avatars to do your important work for you...

webheads in second life montage

church of the customer blog - not sure what this is about, but it's interesting reading!

managing the gray- building costs in second life

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Monday, November 13, 2006

chat revisited, misc.

I have some questions about chat- so I wrote them down. Forgive me for sending you off in millions of directions. Actually it's just a distraction from what I'm really doing, which is raising kids and making a cd. Also worrying about a sick wife, and classes that flunk midterms. I got a good article on Chomsky, and will report on it a.s.a.p. He's an amazing guy, I have to admit. The article tries to reconcile his politics and his linguistics, which always had a kind of dynamic tension. Aha- here it is...if you want to know what has happened to linguistics for the last 50 yrs.- here you go. Don't start it during a midterm though. I think my students are actually texting each other while I'm trying to read about Noam.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

logjam at teotihuacan exit

Cleaning out an old set of links I ran across a link to Tim Mason's "Could Chomsky be wrong?" which still went to this excellent resource though indirectly. This was exactly what I needed. One thing I like about Tim Mason is that he pointed out some things that I heartily agree with and yet thought I was the only one saying. For example, right in the first paragraph:

"If you trawl the net, you will find that the majority of material on language acquisition - whether of a first or a second language - is strongly Nativist and often simply takes it for granted that Chomsky and Fodor have, between them, swept away all possibility of opposition. In the English-speaking world - the French, for example, are far more skeptical - the Universal Grammar or the language module rules supreme."

It may be that it only seemed this way, but my memory of graduate school (1986) and the reading I did for years afterward was that Chomsky and his followers had indeed erased the blackboard of all opposition, and yet, something about what Chomsky said never sat well with me. Maybe it was this: How could someone from Boston say that there are universal rules of driving, for example, which we access genetically, which tell us basic ways to behave in situations? Of course, Chomsky may have never used the driving/traffic analogy as others did, but the principle is the same. The fear of accidents or death may be instinctual/genetic, but all else is cultural/behavioral and subject to change- and if you don't believe that, skip Boston and go straight to Mexico City.

Back to Mason: I am very grateful for his still being there after all these years, and also just collecting, laying out, and linking to people with enough nerve to go after the basic tenets of Chomskyism- which to me is where the problem is. Most of the people in the field of linguistics are quite smart- and know a lot about many languages- which makes these conversations very interesting and enlightening, even if, as I believe, they are barking up the wrong tree, so to speak. Mason has the extra advantage of fluency in French, which apparently helps him be confident that ours are not the only voices in the wilderness. He also to his credit is very rational about the whole thing. Something about Chomsky's nature has seemed to make all philosophical challenges, over the years, into personal ones- misinterpreted by him and his supporters, this way, tenfold. But this is entirely unnecessary, since we're trying to get at the roots of human behavior, not Chomsky's behavior. It could be related to fact that Linguistics itself is still a small field- (who has time to think about this stuff?) or the feeling that any suggestion that language is not genetic is like turning Milgram's machine a notch higher.

Perusing this site and all its links will have to wait until I have a little more time; however, I can say this now. Language is a collective behavior of people in a community, much like a traffic jam or a crowd of pedestrians, and though it is quite obvious that the behavior of people in these crowds and communities follows rules and principles, there is no earthly reason that the language, or any crowd, should have natural inborn restrictions itself. That is why I suspect that just about every conceivable language pattern can be found somewhere; every possible rule or universal that one could conjure is broken somewhere, and universalists have failed to find any meaningful consistent universals in world languages that aren't directly tied either to the physical systems we use to produce language, or to the semantic setup we seek to map words onto. As I say this in the blog, I'm a little tenuous--what do I know?--yet I feel, from watching people, that they will truly do anything they can get away with- and language is one place where they truly have very little to lose (unlike I-94 at 7:30 am) - in language, the worst that can happen is that someone won't understand you, and that happens to the best of us even when we're trying to follow the collective rules. But in this situation, looking at the vast sum of human actions, and looking for things that people can't or won't do, is like looking on a university campus for places that people can't or won't go. Or like driving in Mexico City- just because it's the Street of the Dead, doesn't mean people will actually stop at red lights. Does it?

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

web commentary

I keep my class interesting by making them think about stuff I like to think about, namely, changes on the web and what it's doing to our world. Here are some articles that have come to our attention:

Shaughnessy, H. (2006, Oct. 4). The Internet changes the way we think, uh? Accessed 10-06.

This one boils down to saying that we don't need as much memory now, since all the information in the world is at our fingertips. I agree, but I think the web does a lot more to us than allow us more brain space. It is true, though, that we could possibly remember different things, now that we're not bogged down with details like, for example, where exactly our teenagers are. There's more to it than this, though- I guarantee it.

Landphair, T. (2006, Oct. 7). Internet goes transparent- literally. Voice of America, American Life. Accessed 11-06.

This one touches the MySpace and FaceBook crazes- and this is something that I've been thinking a bit about, having two teenage boys who fit Samuelson's remarks. Basically I think that all this transparency- baring our souls (I'm as much in it as anyone, though not here)- puts backwards pressure on those who don't. And I think that the young feel in some basic way that having certain people know them well is essential to their survival, and not being afraid to have everyone see them in their crazier moments is important too- or they wouldn't be doing it. People see privacy (or lack of it) much differently than they used to, and have adapted much more quickly to certain realities: 1) that it would take them about fifteen minutes to find you, no matter where you are, if they really wanted to these days; 2) that, in a crowded world, having your cards on the table is a pretty good survival mechanism; 3) that, in a connected world, there isn't much you can truly hide anyway, or should even want to.

Ward, M. (2006, Sept. 25). Spam trail uncovers junk empire. BBC News, Technology. Accessed 11-06.

You laugh at these Viagra spammers, but this article shows how they sent 100 million messages by hijacking 100,000 home computers in 119 nations. Ironically, they are mixing in literature with the Viagra messages, and changing that literature every 12 seconds, so that it's a running set of viagra-literature-spam messages; I'm struck by how 1) a young person might be exposed to good literature quite accidentally; and 2) how the author, in this case Tolkien, gets unexpected though fragmented exposure worldwide. Sure, I'm a connaisseur of error haiku, vocabulary-quiz poetry, and other kinds of mixed-media surprises, but this is an interesting twist. The investigators were surprised that they actually supplied pharmaceuticals upon receiving money, which implied that the spammers had a serious-business aspect to them, in spite of the vast worldwide scale of forgery and deception that they used to get to it. I'm also interested in the fake biographies. Maybe I could have a career selling virtual pharmaceuticals to avatars in Second Life.

Education IT Blog (2006, Nov. 11). Recruiters, forget the catalog, just send an instant message. ZD Net Education. Accessed 11-06.

Here's one for SIUC. Care about the future? Chat is where it's at, I assure you. I'm the only one listening to myself, I'm afraid, but it doesn't matter: I'm charging forward with "SIU-WORLD" chat. As soon as I dig out from under these midterms.

And finally,
I've left Copenhagen for Uganda- A Danish woman's links to Sudanese bloggers.

Watch the world get smaller as we speak. Don't know why I included it, but the world's far corners have always been interesting to me. As they get pulled closer, I realize: this glass-house transparency business iis a world-survival thing. The collective consciousness realizes that it's got to change with the times; we're all in the same greenhouse, I guess. My students may not care about these last two- I just stumbled on them, and didn't want to lose them. I've considered becoming a commentator on the social dynamics of the new web- stumbled across a couple of these too, but lost them- but that will have to wait for the day I've got time and am not too disorganized to let 1100 emails bury what I've got.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

spent a weekend in Philly one afternoon...

William Labov, Univ. of Pennsylvania- found his homepage when straightening out an old static page that has been sitting there looking cut off at the knees, for almost a year, while I've been off galivanting with the hot logs. I'm getting tired of "managing" the over-300 cesl pages, almost doubled by an accident, but not made any better-looking or more efficient, and am hankering to make life simpler. Ditto with my file cabinets & stacks in the office; my overflowing plants; my overflowing garage; the stuff under the seat of my '68 truck. Time for a ruthless cleaning & pitching. It's already underway.

Back to Labov- if I'm going into socio- or historical- with whatever I write, I"m going to have to deal with him. That's ok; I like him, unlike Chomsky, whose politics I like, but whose linguistics I got sick of before I was halfway through graduate school. And I'm glad to see, about halfway down the page, that he figures out, and actually measures, the extent to which people keep track of what they hear. I'm glad he measured it- now I don't have to. I have always maintained that 1) people keep careful track; 2) they know when a certain critical density is reached; they consciously or subconsciously cave & go with the majority when that becomes the easiest option.

More to read here- I'm hoping to hang onto it, by moving it over here to the 24-hr. diner.

Problem with the static pages is, I wince every time I go there. Also, it's harder to fix them, since you have to squint at old html, and use Fetch, which keeps threatening to cut itself off & deny access, like I'm some kind of child-support slacker. I'm now using BBEdit (which I recommend) and borrowing Fetch, which is ok, allows me to fix a few at home, but basically I still am looking at upgrading, simplifying, pitching hundreds of pages. Time's a-wastin'...and the truly good stuff is still there, untouched, collecting a little dust, a few spiders have been having their way with it, I guess. My new strategy is to list every page in the template of my web home, where it will at least be on the table where I can see it. I know there's too much for one template, but I've got a place to keep the list going when I fill this one up. At least this is a place I go once in a while. In the process of teaching eighteen hours, supervising, keeping the main weblogs in order (even these are embarrassing), taking care of young children, getting exercise, combing my hair on the way back from the pool, and doing some writing and music, life gets a little busy. The other day I lost a key to a filing cabinet (actually lost in the process of moving) and got really mad- for a while- until I found the key on my own keychain, among dozens of keys that I don't even know where they go, exactly (sorry about the tortured sentence...after teaching clauses I'm saying things the way the students say them, even imagining why one would start adding that randomly and variously to sentences...) I going nuts? Dragging these stupid keys around. But you throw them away, turns out you'll need them tomorrow, for some other stupid filing cabinet. Time to slow down, get a big cup of coffee, give some big tests, clear the deck, go home, and do grammar & rock-n-roll....just like the old days.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

patterns of self-organized systems

Before starting I'd like to say that 1) it's almost midnight here on a cold night in which my truck has broken down; 2) the youngest guy was sick so spent some time with me, actually in the truck & tow truck, rather than at work; 3) a long week winding down, I lost the piece of paper I had scrawled the notes below on; I had put them in a pocket during a test I was giving, and now have to recreate them. But this project is a kind of passion. I know other people are doing this kind of work, and are probably doing it more scientifically; I'll bring the links soon. But, rather than buy or get those books, I really want to put it in order myself, completely originally. I'm open to other variations, other theories. It's just that I think that:

-the mind is basically very simple, very efficient, very short on space that it is willing to allot to language;
-the systems it creates must always be in harmony with large numbers of people in the community and so must have a kind of mass logic
-there are plenty of examples in nature that we can use to figure this out; the laws will be self-evident and will be physical laws.

Briefly, cars and traffic are not the best model, because we approach traffic with the idea that the law is above us, that it's always been there, when in fact the primary motivation for most of our actions in cars is what other nearby cars are doing. Though the law is a minor consideration, when making a model for language it's better to find a self-organized system in which law is not even a consideration, as that will be more similar to what we see in language. I truly believe that all this talk about "restriction" and "universal restriction" genetic or otherwise, is crap. Why would a language have a restriction? A language is a construct of humans. A restriction serves no earthly purpose. The only restriction on language is that the brain has only so much space & energy that it's willing to devote to it; after that, it becomes inefficient, and humans' ability to do other things effectively is compromised. So we, a community of language speakers, work collectively to simplify, constanty, to adjust for other changes that we've been forced to accept and integrate.

One good model for what happens is a large crowd of fans leaving a stadium after a game; the walkway may slope down, but is bordered on both sides by walls. People walk at optimum speeds knowing that walking to slow will impede progress and walking faster would be impossible. People who need to tie their shoes wait, if possible, until there is more space, but if not, an occasional mother stops to tie a son's shoe and the crowd finds a way to work around her until progress is back to normal. It cannot be quite normal, as hundreds of people are fitting through a narrower space, but it adjusts naturally so that each person can make reasonable forward progress and get out of the stadium at the same time. People are very sensitive to each other's moods; a kind of heightened awareness permeates though naturally what happens to the people in front of you is far more important than what happens to the people behind you.

Some physical laws in the situation that are not mentioned above:

-Each person gravitates naturally and subconsciously to space that is equidistant from the people around; thus he/she has as much space as possible to manouver while walking. If the person on the left squeezes right, he/she naturally squeezes right also in order to optimize space and keep traffic going, avoid bumping.

-People are aware that certain actions are bad for the group: trying to go too fast; weaving; turning around; veering off; such actions inconvenience hundreds and are therefore to be avoided. A kind of peer pressure keeps the traffic going at optimum speeds and forward, and generally prevails.

-The vast majority of movements are adjustments to other movements. For example, the woman who stops to tie her child's shoe causes thousands of minor adjustments, in people going back several tiers; one action of hers, that was not an adjustment itself (in terms of the crowd and its collective action) may have caused hundreds that were. Yet to a person way back, who experiences the person in front of them adjusting slightly, they may not see that movement as an adjustment, yet they adjust themselves, not worrying about the reason. Traffic jams are like this. We assume that some accident is the cause of the jam, yet it may be anything; we adjust to each other constantly and steadily.

-We should not confuse the collective action- the movement of the crowd, movement of the traffic jam, or change of language- with the actions and motivations of the little actors within it who cause everything. Each individual, acting with his/her own motivation, makes the changes that change the system. But the system can be studied as a collective whole- and can be changed, or manipulated, collectively.

-Systems can interact with other systems, for example when the crowd coming down from the bleachers encounters the crowd coming up from the boxes. Still, everyone acts with their own motivation; they want to get out & go home. They have a different pattern to integrate now, but they do it.

-Like water that seeks another channel and occasionally finds it, people will sometimes find another shorter way to get to their cars, and break off from the group in small numbers in this other direction. There is a name for this when rivers do it. It's a natural process; nature encourages it because the original riverbed has built up sediment and is no longer as easy as a passageway as a new route could be. Water is actually a good metaphor also for what is happening, because the system is truly natural, but it's also self-replicating- no matter how fast and successfully the water goes down, there's always more, upstream, waiting to do the same thing. Nature replaces it.

-We learn the laws of behavior from basic cause-effect science and behaviorism. We do what works. We're just trying to get to our cars. We assume that other fans think like we do (they do). We assume that, with the exception of the panhandler at the bottom of the stairs, their motives are as simple as ours. And generally, they are. We do what works, because it works. We have learned the optimum speed to seek; we have learned how to manage the crowd and its obstacles.

Enough for one night- see you in the morning!