Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Andrew, Brandon, Gordon, and pickle

This was my dream last night:

It wasn't clear whether I was in New York or Provo. It felt like Provo, but it also felt like there was an understanding that those involved had moved from Provo to New York. I was in the car with Andrew Clark (a close friend and neighbor from very young, and if you're keeping track, Chris Clark's (the Jolly Porter's) brother), and we were on our way to play football. I was really excited to play football. On the way, we passed by Brandon Warren's house (Brandon is another friend from elementary school through high school). I saw Brandon, so I got out and asked if he wanted to play football with us. (As I approached the house, I saw that some of the Warrens were playing ping-pong--incidentally I beat Brandon to win the ping-pong tournament at Wasatch elementary school in 1984. The two of us also won the doubles tournament) Brandon responded that he would love to, but first he was waiting for a visit from Gordon B. Hinckley (the Mormon prophet). He said it non-chalantly, but clearly intending for me to hear that President Hinckley would be coming by. I asked: "Really?...I want to meet him, can I stay around?" "Sure" I reported the news to Andrew, and we both got out to wait for President Hinckley.

Excitement was building, and I asked Brandon why Gordon B. Hinckley was visiting his home. He responded that his Dad (Doug Warren) had done a lot of work with Kenneth Starr, and Kenneth Starr was a close friend of President Hinckley. I asked: "Really? Is President Hinckley good friends with Kenneth Starr?" Brandon looked at me half in wonder that I didn't know that.

Well, President Hinckley finally arrived and everyone was understandably excited, but not trying to appear so. I was particularly excited because I have always admired President Hinckley. I looked forward to seeing him in a more informal setting. President Hinckley came in with a small entourage, and he sat down. It seemed everyone wanted to converse, but noone knew what to say. President Hinckley though, seemed at ease. Brandon's dad asked if he could get anyone some water or anything. President Hinckley jumped right in and asked if there were any pickles. "I think so" answered Brandon's Dad. President Hinckley stood up and marched to the kitchen to get a pickle, all the while remarking how he loved a nice, crisp pickle. He walked past and I instinctively turned to watch him walk to the kitchen, confident and determined. In my dream I felt like I admired President Hinckley even more after this.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hope of America: patterns and/or turning points in life

I never thought of myself as the stand out, "most likely to succeed" kind of kid. When I was in 6th grade, my bishop was John Beal. Bishop Beal was a banker by trade, and I recently saw him at the St. George Triathlon. We kind of had eye-contact. Actually I spoke with him for a few minutes, but still we kind of had eye-contact. It's hard to explain. Ever since I was the star boy of the primary presentation in our ward during which Bishop Beal and I had an involved memorized conversation that linked the different musical pieces together, I felt a connection to Bishop Beal (But I couldn't think of myself as 'standing out' here because, truth is, I was the only 11 year old boy, and the program was based around an 11 year old boy conversing with his bishop). Despite my red hair, I didn't really stand out in school. Some say that I no longer have red hair. I'm not sure how to take that; I still think I have red hair. I still feel like I have red hair. I don't feel like I don't have red hair. (David Lee Roth doesn't feel tardy.) When I was in 6th grade, I also had a lot of freckles. I was so cute! Imagine the cutest kid you have ever seen, now multiply that by 4. Cute huh?

I've mentioned earlier my attempt to gallop to the presidential fitness level in 6th grade. That kind of effort was typical of my approach to 6th grade: this was a year I pushed the envelope. I worked hard, got my first straight 'A' report card, attended Charity Harvey's (my first true love's) dance un-invited (Charity was the first to hold a dance party), and I was getting good at tennis and skiing, and practicing piano better than before (probably in an attempt to impress Charity). I learned every word on the spelling bee list. I don't know if I told you, but I got out on 'jeep'. 'Jeep!' If you have ever got out on 'jeep' you know that it is a trick word in spelling bees. Do you really think I didn't know how to spell 'jeep'? How did I spell it? Like everyone who misspells it because the school can't afford that kind of volatile personality winning the spelling bee: "Your word is Jeep." "Jeep?...OK...Jeep--G... oh, wait, I mean 'J'" "Sorry, you clearly don't know how to spell 'jeep'". That really was the year I had come prepared to take down any competition in the spelling bee. Bring it on Mildensteins! I also memorized all the Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes during our section on nursery rhymes (beating everyone else by about 25 poems.) Whether others noticed or not, I was pushing myself in 6th grade. I think this is the year I went skiing several times with Jeff Wing (probably my best friend that year, and winner of 2 spelling bees) to Snowbird with his Dad too, and I tackled black diamonds. This was the year the world was starting to come together. But for most eyes, I didn't stand out in ways our culture wants kids to stand out.

You're familiar with the Hope of America award right? I know Chris won it, and his sister, Paige, won it, I also think his wife, Lisa won it. Since Chris was in my ward, I thought I might have an inside track to the award--I had at least heard about it, on a pretty regular basis, so I knew what was at stake, and who knows? maybe past winners helped vote. If so, I thought I could count on Chris. I kind of wondered why Bishop Beal was at 6th grade graduation--Laura (his daughter) was in 5th grade, no?

So the moment of the award came, and Bishop Beal gets up and starts talking about the Hope of America award, and why it is so special, and why only the most special students win it, and how the winner isn't always the person you might think. I started to get a little nervous. Why would they have my bishop come do this? Coincidence? Probably. But if there were a person who might be able to see beneath the surface of the 6th graders' efforts that year, it just might be my bishop... Well, you probably already predicted that Lorita Reynolds won it for the girls. What with her talented singing family and all--singing family that performed for several of our ward parties--of which Bishop Beal was the bishop(!!!) she was hard to overlook. Huh, so is there anyone else that Bishop Beal was associated with among the boys? Come to think of it, I was the only boy that year in his ward. (Charity Harvey was in the ward, but she was a "girl"). Well, it came time for the boys. At first I thought I had no chance, I just wouldn't stand out in that kind of fierce competition; unless; unless the judges were extra perceptive--spiritually perceptive? like say, a bishop could see? and really could identify genuine effort, promise and hope for America! The longer Bishop Beal's desription lasted, the more and more it resembled me. This person worked hard, played tennis, liked sports and school, liked skiing and the outdoors, a great speller, was a red-head freckle-faced boy...Please join me in congratulating 1985's male hope of America...

Jeff Wing.

Of course. He won all those spelling bees.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Etiquette journal: Roommates

I have some pretty fail-safe roommate etiquette tips from my experience with many roommates. It all starts around a pretty simple yet powerful concept/office supply: masking tape. From my experience, most run-ins with roomates happen because of ambiguity. "Which side of the room am I not allowed to step in?" "Which side of the counter is it best I keep my things off?" etc. If roommates would make a simple practice of masking off sections of the apartment/counter/fridge/etc. to designate each roommate's "space" numerous fights would be prevented.

I can sum up my remedy for most roommate squabbles in one word: labeling. Labelling is really the Godfather of masking off areas: the idea is to designate ownership or personal property/space. Labeling takes care of the vast majority of roommate problems, ("You can't use my ruler." "How do you know it's yours?" "Because it says so on the label.")

But even after extensive labeling, I also find it helpful to make a few lists. In my experience, I have made numerous lists, they usually differ with each new roommate depending on what his annoying (or non-annoying as the case may be) habits, but here are some lists that seem to recur with some regularity: List #1: food items that my roommate can't eat no matter how hungry he or she is (like any food that is labelled, and like Doritos). List #2: food items that it is unfair for roommates to put on their list #1 because I really like them (like Pringles). List #3: things that really annoy me (like snoring). List #4: things that it is unfair for roommates to put on list #3 because it's just how I am--or I'm working on it (like smelling bad, or taking too long in the shower). I find that after I live with a particular roommate for a little while, it is usually worthwhile to add a couple other lists, but they differ from roommate to roommate, but I have probably made around 28 different lists.

Next, I think it is really important for roommates to get together regularly to discuss their relationship. I find it helpful for me to document things that I might find annoying. It can especially be helpful to put it in an organized (Powerpoint?) presentation to communicate the issue. But this can hurt feelings, so it is really important to tell the other some positive qualities that he or she has (You are so thoughtful--and smart! Hey you! You rock-star hero! I love how you clean up after yourself!) This is also an opportunity to express appreciation (I noticed you haven't been snoring as much, I really appreciate if you have been taking those snoring pills I gave you.)

Finally, where possible, see to the spiritual development of each roommate. This is a special time in your life! Remember that! Never forget that each of you is a valuable child of God. Each roommate! And remember that you will be glad for the effort you make to help each other make the most of your time and be happy.

Friday, January 13, 2006

approximating natives

Earlier I discussed two of the three legs of language learning: exposure to language, and opportunity to use the language. The third leg to discuss now is approximating a native's pronunciation and understanding. This is closely related to the phenomenon of plateauing, also discussed earlier.

In order to improve toward fluency, a language learner must continually more closely approximate a native's pronunciation and understanding of the language. This claim is almost tautological. But you can easily see how this necessary aspect to language learning can be (and often does get) corrupted. Most people have experienced teachers stuck on simply fixing bad pronunciation or grammar, or excessively proud of their pronunciation or correct grammar; these teachers see their task as developing more and more grammar worksheets, and diagrams of the shape your mouth should make for different sounds. But even in these often absurd activities, there is a kernel of truth.

Once we can't distinguish between our pronunciation and understanding and a native's, or once we are satisfied the difference is not worth overcoming, we are blocked from progress. We have plateaued.

As a teacher, there is a place for correcting a language learner's pronunciation, and highlighting differences between his and a native's understanding. But such correcting, if it makes the learner hesitant to speak unless he is positive it is spoken with a native accent and with perfect grammar, is detrimental to the learner's progress. If the correcting is reduced to, or perceived to be reduced to providing lists of correct sentences, it can give the impression that language learning is tantamount to memorizing a set of grammatically-correct sentences, and so reliant on the teacher providing the sentences, and it will start the learner down the wrong road from the get go. An effort I have made that I think has a good instructional basis looks like this:


Shopped/shopping Read(past tense)/reading
Prepared/preparing Saw/seeing
Cleaned/cleaning heard/hearing

I The for
Sound/music Closed/closing

After I read the article, I understood.
Before I saw the movie, I read the book.
Before seeing the movie, I read the book.
*Before I saw the movie, I reading the book.
After I shopped, I prepared the food.
After shopping, I prepared the food.
*After I shopping, I prepared the food.
*After I shopped, I preparing the food.

First there is a "scatter-chart" with different words or groups of words. At the bottom, there are several sample-sentences (the incorrect ones have an asterisk)generated from the scatterchart. The task given to students is to generate as many sentences as they can from this limited set of words, using the sample sentences as a guide. The sentences highlight frequent errors students make. The students figure out what the mistakes are, or they get a feel for why some expressions work and others don't.

Learners can gain a feel for an aspect of a native's understanding, and work to generate many novel expressions, all the while, a limited set of typical differences between his and a native's understanding are highlighted.

In a sense, every activity should work toward facilitating the learner approximating a native's understanding, or use of the language. Some time (and this time can be a tricky thing--teachers and programs often go way overboard) should be devoted to how the learner's language differs from the natives. This reflection can be part of an activity primarily focused on exposure to the language, or on opportunity to speak, or it could be an independent exercise; however, the more abstracted it is from actual, everyday use, the less helpful and practical it becomes.

To judge a given activity on an "Approximating native" scale, we can ask:
In the course of the activity, is a learner's sense for the difference between his understanding of the language and a native's improved?
Does the activity leave the student eager to use the target language, or hesitant because of fear of mistakes?
Does the activity help the student (in general) inquire more intelligently into the difference between his and a native's understanding of a language?

Monday, January 09, 2006

robot rhymes

As part of my larger study on robots, I have been trying to synthesize some humanistic and scientific approaches to robots. A promising route to this end is what I am calling 'Robot Rhyming'. The idea is pretty simple. Basically, from a catalog of words that rhyme with different robot parts or aspects (and also with the actual word 'robot'), people can make full-on poems, or just simple rhymes. I believe the technology is even there to run some of these words into a computer function, and the computer could turn out rhymes, or even poems*. Here are some of the rhymes I have for robots and robot parts:

robot: crow--bot! slow-bot, blowbot, glowbot, Pol-Pot.
circuit: jerk-kit, work it! biscuit(?)
switch: (this one was pretty easy) witch, ditch, pitch, quidd'ch.
wires: (this one was also pretty easy) tires, fires, Shire(s), Dreyers.
Android: (this one was surprisingly difficult, but in the end, I'm pretty pleased) Band-roid, Slandroid, Jandroid, GuLandroid

Well this is a sample. I hesitate to offer the complete Robot Rhyming works! 2006 at this stage for a variety of reasons. Also, I'm not sure what will be made from this effort. Off hand, I can imagine a lot of poems and rhymes could be constructed (i.e. people can be creative and use their imaginations with these tools), but who knows where this technology--or, more specifically, these robot rhymes--could lead in the future? You certainly don't. I invite you to make robot poems or rhymes; they could be of a variety of structures: couplet, sonnet, limerick, pentameters (iambic or doric), decameters, haiku, verse, prose, limerick, or anthology. As I have found, this is an excellent outlet for creativity about robots and it can help to think more constructively about robots and the future.

*so for example, I would upload the rhyming words for 'switch' (i.e. witch, ditch, etc.) (after naming those words 'switch rhyme' list, then if you wanted to make a rhyme or a poem, you would submit the word 'switch' and there would be a function that would then spit out the rhyming words. Something like: if 'switch' inserted here, then do random spit out of one of the words from uploaded 'switch rhyme' list.