Sunday, June 25, 2006

Corporate Branding by the big guy upstairs...

The iBelieve iPod: Click here for audio salvation at only 13 bucks a pop!

thursday, june 22nd, 2006

Thursday, June 22, 2006

An Ivy League tale... can you handle it?

Wikipedia writes: "Kaavya Viswanathan (born January 16, 1987) is an Indian-American undergraduate student in the Harvard College class of 2008, and a novelist noted for her plagiarism. She was born in Chennai, India, and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, and suburban Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, United States...."

In high-school, Viswanathan received a $500,000 advance- a 2 book deal from Little Brown & Company. It's hard to decide who's most at fault here. What about the agent- or, the publishers for lax editorial support- or, the schlub who read this girl's application essay for Harvard??

Viswanathan told the New York Sun in early 2005 (just after her book deal was made): "I still cannot believe this. I never expected this would happen... I had only vaguely thought of becoming a writer. But a book contract? From a major publisher? This is so incredibly unbelievable. It's so hard to believe that I'm going to be able to walk into a bookstore and see something that I wrote on display there." liar, liar!

...on the rack next to James Frey and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Another "V" quote from the same article:
"This is a big-time commitment. It's not like writing an essay for a class."

omigosh, Harvard admissions people, did it strike a warning bell when her application essay started "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." ??

Yet another little tidbit I enjoyed:
"Strangely, Ms. Viswanathan's novel is a case of life imitating art."

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In fact, writers and would-be writers are often told to parrot the styles of those who've gone before. But this is not even genuine EFFORT in my opinion...


From page 6 of Megan McCafferty's novel "Sloppy Firsts":
"Sabrina was the brainy Angel. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: Pretty or smart. Guess which one I got. You'll see where it's gotten me."

From page 39 of Viswanathan's novel:
"Moneypenny was the brainy female character. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: smart or pretty. I had long resigned myself to category one, and as long as it got me to Harvard, I was happy. Except, it hadn't gotten me to Harvard. Clearly, it was time to switch to category two."

From page 7 of McCafferty's first novel:
"Bridget is my age and lives across the street. For the first twelve years of my life, these qualifications were all I needed in a best friend. But that was before Bridget's braces came off and her boyfriend Burke got on, before Hope and I met in our seventh-grade honors classes."

From page 14 of Viswanathan's novel:
"Priscilla was my age and lived two blocks away. For the first fifteen years of my life, those were the only qualifications I needed in a best friend. We had first bonded over our mutual fascination with the abacus in a playgroup for gifted kids. But that was before freshman year, when Priscilla's glasses came off, and the first in a long string of boyfriends got on."

[The link above is to a Harvard Crimson article by David Zhou and it details many more examples of V's thievery.]

Writers, of course, should take the lead from those who've gone before- by mimicking their styles for effect, to learn, to see what's worked for others.

Rolling Stone contributing editor David Lipsky has said this, regarding "sampling" other authors:

"...writing, as far as I've learned it, has a lot in common with hip-hop... You look around for stuff you can grab, you think: What worked on me? Why did it work? And then: How can I put that same sound into my own CD?"

Lipsky was referring to this sentence, which he wrote in 1996. "Then Larson went home, put on a pot of water for tea, and died around 1 a.m."

He goes on to describe the evolution of the sentence from its original inspiration- a novel called Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh. "I remembered it going like this- He laid hishead in the oven, and presently died... In fact, I pulled the paragraph off of Amazon, and here's how it actually goes- The sniff made him cough, and coughing made him breathe, and breathing made him feel very ill; but soon he fell into a coma and presently died."

THAT is how to be a writer. THAT is sampling. THAT is being so affected by the work of someone else that it stays with you forever-- even if the memory fades, the emotion does not.

By the way, has anyone bothered to question McCafferty's agent and publisher regarding her early advances? This stinks of bias. If that's not the case, and it really is just a matter of a bright-eyed "ingenue," then Little Brown's negligence astounds me.

thursday, june 22nd, 2006

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A friend said to me recently, "He may have beady eyes, but he's a great dancer!"

naked zorroYou should always look on the bright side...

So, Philly is the 4th dumbest city in the country. Let's pity the poor suckers at 1, 2, 3.

Or maybe laugh.

Then again, Philly did give birth to this guy... (when you click on the image, he drops his pants!)

thursday, june 15th, 2006

A Propsed Study of Second Language Compositional Proficiency

L2 Compositional Proficiency 1


L2 Compositional Proficiency in Professional Writers
Marjo R. Moore
Temple University
L2 Compositional Proficiency 2
In the proposed study 30 professional writers and 30 non-writing career controls, all English monolinguals, will take part in a foreign language immersion program, with a terminating session consisting solely of a cumulative Russian language essay assignment, with no time or topic constraints. The resulting essays will be rated first according to the Computerized Propositional Idea Density Rater (CPIDR3, pronounced "spider") then by 10 blind raters for complexities that span the language spectrum including emotional content, idea development, and cohesion. The anticipated results will show that as L2 compositional proficiency is rated to have increased so will participant experience, defined as expertise/length of time in a writing-intense professional field.

L2 Compositional Proficiency 3
L2 Compositional Proficiency in Professional Writers
Successful Second Language Acquisition has long been an area of interest for researchers. In the last ten years, a subordinate category focusing on second language written gains (L2 Writing Systems) has yielded many promising new leads in the scientific and mainstream communities alike. More mainstream, if you will, is the Nun Study, a 30-year longitudinal look at Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and aging, the work of Dr. David A. Snowdon. Among Snowdon’s more popular findings have been distinct associations between early life verbal/written skills, education, positive mood, and late life longevity, defined as absences of AD/dementia (Mortimer et. al 2003, Danner et. al 2001). Despite the oversimplification that Snowdon’s work has been saddled with by Oprah Winfrey and others, his emphasis on written skills and the inner workings of the mind, his contributions overall, are impossible to ignore. It is for this reason that the proposed study seeks to examine L2 written skills acquisition in a sample of writers, in order to ascertain whether they are more adept at gains in some way (as Snowdon’s multiple findings seem to suggest). In the same way that certain individuals are visual and others auditory learners, so are some L2 novices noticeably much more proficient at L2 writing than at L2 speaking. The “curve” should thus be more evident in a group already possessed of quantifiable writing talent.
The proposed study seeks to examine whether, over the course of an 8-week Russian language immersion program, career-professional monolingual writers do indeed outpace monolingual non-professionals in successful L2 writing acquisition. The Russian language was chosen for its basic structural similarities to English, versus Asiatic languages, as well as for its
L2 Compositional Proficiency 4
relative degree of unfamiliarity in everyday life and in media usage, versus Spanish or German. Compositional proficiency in the cumulative Russian language essay, completed in the final session of the program, is predicted to be strongly associated with expertise, defined as years/experience spent in a writing-intense profession.
Participants in the experimental group will be 30 English-only career-professional writers, 15 males and 15 females, between the ages of 30-50, with ‘career-professional’ defined as sole source/highest source of household income. The proposed sample will be gathered via advertisement and outreach in communities within 50 miles of Temple University’s Main Campus. Additionally, contact will be made with alumni associations of Philadelphia-area colleges and universities that offer graduate writing degrees. There will be no limitations put on writing genre. Furthermore, there will be no requirements as to educational degree attained. Work experience (i.e. quantifiable “talent”) will be the most important factor.
The microcosm that is the traditional ‘college town,’ within a city the size of Philadelphia, makes it reasonable to assume that researchers could locate participants for the proposed study both with and without degrees or graduate degrees amid this population, via snowball sampling. English-only experimental and control participants will be matched for gender, age, ethnicity, memory, and race from community advertisements/outreach and from alumni associations of Philadelphia-area, non-writing graduate degree offering colleges and universities.
L2 Compositional Proficiency 5
Prospective participants will be prescreened by phone for bilingual ability, considerable second-language exposure, and Russian ethnic ties. In the case of the control group, writer hobbyists, defined as those who engage in writing at length for the purpose of recreation at least once a week, will be excluded. For the purposes of this study, in which the minimum participant age is 30, ‘considerable second language exposure’ will be defined as more than one semester of secondary or college L2 training with significant recall. The ideal would be to find the unlikely mix of college-trained writers with zero semesters of second language exposure, however that notion can still be considered via study participants who do not possess bachelor’s or graduate degrees—the projected 19% composition of freelance writers, for example.
Participants will be told in advance of their rights regarding privacy, informed consent will be obtained, and they will be notified of their ability to discontinue with the study at any time.
The proposed study will utilize a t-test for independent means. Measurement of proficiency will be 10 blind raters’ coding scores and the results from the CPIDR3 program (11 separate scores on 14 total dimensions across 60 essays). CPIDR3 (Computerized Propositional Idea Density Rater) is Michael Covington and David Snowdon’s software platform, used to automatically determine the propositional idea density of written English text.

L2 Compositional Proficiency 6
Procedure/Experimental Task
Sixty participants will take part in a Russian language immersion program for 8 consecutive Saturdays, for four hours a session. The schedule of language instruction, adapted from accepted L2 curricula currently in use at Temple University is laid out fully in the appendix (Davis 2004).
The final session of the class will consist solely of the cumulative, long, untimed, unrestricted essay assignment. The only requirement for the essay will be that it is at least 6 paragraphs, with at least five sentences per paragraph. Participants will write the essay in the exact same lecture hall where they attended classes. They will be encouraged to spread out and sit anywhere. At the conclusion of the task, the participant will remain in his or her seat, raise his or her hand, and as quietly as possible gain the attention of one of the researchers. At that time, a 100 response questionnaire will be given out, pertaining to the participant’s experience with the study (Appendix contains abridged version). The main purpose of the questionnaire will be to serve as a distraction, an effort to prevent a premature emptying of the lecture hall. It will be the job of one of the researchers to keep track of how many of the 60 study participants are still working on the essay, versus completing the questionnaire. When the first participant completes his or her questionnaire, if there are still participants in the essay phase, the first participant will be permitted to quietly proceed into a smaller nearby classroom where the study debriefing will occur.
The above outlined will not necessitate the use of any technological equipment. On <5 occasions, the instructor may present web appropriated videos to aide in discussion, such as
L2 Compositional Proficiency 7
those pertaining to Russian cultures and customs, but he or she will be the only one to operate the computer, an Apple machine, and the related classroom projector. Seventy-five percent of instructional time will consist of lectures, 15% will involve small group interactions, and 10% will consist of in-class timed, topic-specific assignments and peer/instructor critiques.
Measurement of Dependent Variable
The coding system utilized in rating the Russian language essays, including the smaller in-class compositions written during weeks three and six, will consist first of the CPIDR3 program, then the compositions will be passed to a group of 10 blind raters who will classify them according to general competence/style: knowledge of topic, organization, cohesion, coherence, emotional complexity, uniqueness, audience awareness, overall amount of content; according to development: logical transitions, idea progression, expression, argumentation, and clarity; and lastly, according to precision: broad and appropriate vocabulary usage, accurate grammar, punctuation, spelling (scale of 1-3). The rater group will be comprised of: four female English monolinguals; 4 bilingual Russian/English speakers (three males and one female); and two male Russian speaking monolinguals.
The raters will be instructed to rate according to a scale of 1-3, with “1” being unsuccessful, “2” being somewhat successful, and “3” being successful. Ratings will then be compared. A detailed rubric is included in the Appendix.

L2 Compositional Proficiency 8

The coders will rate 60 essays and score from 1-3 on 13 dimensions of compositional proficiency. The CPIDR3 program will also provide analysis of proportional idea density. The mean and standard deviation for each essay, according to the dimensions previously outlined, will be analyzed, ultimately using a t-test for independent samples.
Because the analyses will be sufficient to reject the null hypothesis, this study will prompt future examinations into the intersection of written/oral communication, as well as the seeming enigma of how dissimilar minds process speech systems. In what ways is the writer’s brain wired uniquely to that of the non-career writer? In the same vein, the frequency of co morbidities among this population indicates that it is an area brimming with opportunities for researchers.
What are the possible future implications of the proposed study, with regard to learning disorders such as dyslexia? Insofar as L2 instruction, what can the processes and proficiencies of a novel L2 writer offer the general population of learners? The idea of teaching non-writers the conscious thought-patterns and habits of writers is nothing new. However, in the context of L2 instruction, it may be possible to ascertain some heretofore unknown thought/behavioural dimension. With that in mind, it may be the stuff of a subsequent study to examine whether, in a like research design, writers have the same spoken language gains as written gains.

L2 Compositional Proficiency 9
Considerations pertaining to the structure of this study include the following: the idealized format would incorporate non-English speaking monolingual writers, but time and location constraints prohibit this, perhaps it is an aspect that can be examined in a subsequent study, by colleagues at sister institutions abroad.

L2 Compositional Proficiency 10

Cook, Vivian & Bassetti, Benedetta (Eds.) Second Language Writing Systems. Clevendon, UK: Multilingual Matters, 2005.
Danner, Deborah D., Snowdon, David A. & Friesen, Wallace V. (2001). Positive Emotions in Early Life and Longevity: Findings from the Nun Study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 80(5), 804-813.
Davis, Robert L., Siskin, H. Jay & Ramos, Alicia. Entrevistas: An Introduction to Language and Culture (2nd Edition). McGraw-Hill Humanities/ Social Sciences/ Languages: 2004.
Grice, H.P. Logic and Conversation. Article from Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech Acts, by Cole Peter and Jerry Morgan. New York, Academic Press, 1975.
Li, Ping & Shirai, Yasuhiro. The Acquisition of Lexical and Grammatical Aspect. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2000.
Matsuda, Paul Kei & Silva, Tony (Eds.). Second Language Writing Research: Perspectives on the Process of Knowledge Construction. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2005.
Mortimer, James A., Snowdon, David A. & Markesbery, William R. (2003). Head Circumference, Education and Risk of Dementia: Findings from the Nun Study. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, Vol. 25(5), 671-679.
Rueda, Alicia D. & Schmitter-Edgecombe, Maureen. (2009). Time Estimation Abilities in Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease. Neuropsychology, Vol. 23(2), 178-188.
Snowdon, D.A., Kemper, S.J., Mortimer, J.A., Greiner, L.H., Wekstein, D.R. & Markesbery, W.R. (1996). Linguistic Ability in Early Life and Cognitive Function and Alzheimer’s Disease in Late Life: Findings from the Nun Study. JAMA, 275: 528-532.

L2 Compositional Proficiency 11
Week One—Russian cultural identity, greetings, the alphabet, weekdays, numbers 1-30, telling time, speaking formally/familiarly, descriptive adjectives, subject pronouns, gender/number agreement, question words, prepositions, negations, initial verb conjugations: to talk, to eat, to live, to know, to be.
Week Two—Russian family, family members/relationships, activities, express age, numbers 30-100, express possession, possessive adjectives, introduction to irregular verbs, parts of a house, household items, demonstrative adjectives, converse in the present tense, affirmative commands.
Week Three—Russian food, meals and preparation, general comparative words, speak impersonally, direct object pronouns, describing the weather, climate and its affect on mood, introduction to the past tense, quality of life: routines, work, health, traditional/alternative remedies, numbers 100-300, Russian music, your daily routine, reflexive pronouns. *At the conclusion of this session, an in-class essay assignment will be administered. The topic will be: My plan for studying Russian Effectively. The time limit will be 20 minutes. The recommended length will be at least four paragraphs, of at least five sentences per paragraph.
Week Four—the Russian marketplace, shopping, bargaining, shopping online, clothing, handcrafts, outdoor markets, numbers 300-600, more past tense, indirect objects and indirect object pronouns, sports in Russia, the Social Circle, New Year’s, pastimes, having fun, irregular verb forms in the past tense, negative words, using direct object and indirect object pronouns together, converse about something that happened in the past, introduction to the future tense.
Week Five—Russian historical landscape, childhood memories, family traditions, expressing frequency, stages of life, holidays and traditions, expressions of emotion, more future tense, test on verb conjugations for present and past tenses, travelling, vacations, means of transportation, popular tourist destinations, national symbols, indirect object/direct object pronouns + adjectives.
Week Six—Borders in Russia, borders in our hometowns, crossing borders, maintaining contact with your family’s country of origin, expressing emotions, bio-cultural identity, expressing unexpected or unplanned actions, adverbs, the business environment, job skills, interviewing for a job, the changing roles of women in Russia, occupations, looking for work, formal
commands, familiar commands, reciprocal actions, converse about future actions. *In-class essay assignment, 20 minutes, at least 5 paragraphs: Your memory of a time in your life when you lost something or someone important.
Week Seven—Conflict and peace in the Russian satellites, ethnic groups in Russia, Impact of technology on culture, cultural images in the media, newspapers, TV, movies, Internet, oral/written test on present/past/future Russian tenses and verb conjugations, expressions of

L2 Compositional Proficiency 12

doubt, stereotypes, societal problems and solutions, connections with other people, friends/loves across cultures, friendships/dating relationships, results and consequences.

Knowledge of Topic
For any concretely presented or implied fact in the essay, the rater must fact-check; for instance, that winter my dog ran away was the coldest on record. We walked every night through our Tampa neighborhood and it must have been less than 20 degrees! This is not possible. The rater will be instructed to rate this as a “1.” Certainly such a statement by the participant may have had artistic intent behind it, but it is still not factual. There will be measures below with which one could balance this low score (a “3” on the uniqueness or emotional complexity scales).
Strict rubric here: topic sentence, four supporting sentences. With creative writers, this format may not tend to be as strictly held to. However, this task will be framed as a classic academic essay and should be structured as such. Points may be awarded elsewhere for creative license.
Does the essay remain completely on-point the entire time? If seemingly superfluous diversions are made, do they have a clear-cut artistic intent?
In L2 learners, compositions may contain lapses in logical progressions simply due to lack of recall for necessary vocabulary; for instance, I thought my dog had died and I was sad. Then we found her and I was happy again!
Emotional Complexity
Any word connoting a unique emotion will be tagged in red pen. A differentiation must be made between emotions and elicitors; for instance, My sister really hates Fido, so she screamed and cried all day after we found him. “This is terrible!” This is a singular instance of emotional representation (Danner 2001). Any ambiguities would be considered in a final phase of coding that examines all the raters’ work, side by side.
Does the participant have a distinctive style? This will be a catch-all stylistic category. Raters can score according to their own personal opinion of the piece either by itself, or compared with other writing, or compared with other participant writing.
Audience Awareness
Does the participant write with an appropriate view of his audience in mind? Does the tone vacillate between sounding adult and sounding childish? (Grice 1975)

L2 Compositional Proficiency 13

Overall Amt of Content
Were the minimal length requirements met? Were they exceeded? Task should be presented to class as “Essay must be AT LEAST 5 paragraphs with 6 sentences. More is GREAT!” In this view, then, a “2” will connote meeting the minimum requirements. Remember, this is examined on a per-paragraph basis; for instance, if paragraphs 1-3 all contain 6 sentences, paragraph 4 contains 4, and paragraph 5 contains 8, this should work out to the following ratings, per paragraph: 2,2,2,1,3= 10/5= 2 total.
Strict rubric: does A follow B? Is a sequence labeled “first, second, third,” as opposed to “first, second, finally”?
Idea Progression / Expression
If an idea is broached, is it fleshed out? Did they succeed in fully working out their thesis or topic idea? The old theater adage goes: if there is a gun hanging on the wall in act one, there better be shots fired by act three.
If participant takes a position in the essay, does he or she back it up with factual supporting evidence (“3”), with opinion (“2”), or with non-sourced “facts” (“1”)? An example of a non-sourced fact will be: I remember when I was growing up, my father had a closet full of every nutritional “supplement” known to Man. He made us give the dog Vitamin E because it would make Fido smarter, and it did—he ran away after all!!
Is the composition lucid and simplistic (in the sense of being easy to understand?) Are the sentences transparent?
Is there broad and appropriate vocabulary usage? Is repetition avoided? What about accurate grammar, punctuation, and spelling?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Where have all the cowboys gone, again?

German director Werner Herzog was shot by a crazed fan during a recent interview with the BBC.

The 63-year-old was chatting with movie journalist Mark Kermode about his new film, documentary Grizzly Man, when a sniper opened fire with an air rifle.

Kermode explains, "I thought a firecracker had gone off.

"Herzog, as if it was the most normal thing in the world, said, 'Oh, someone is shooting at us. We must go.'tim treadwell at play

"He had a bruise the size of a snooker ball, with a hole in. He just carried on with the interview while bleeding quietly in his boxer shorts."

An unrepentant Herzog insisted, "It was not a significant bullet. I am not afraid."


-- i know this news item is a bit dated, but i just discovered it at my new favorite watering hole the morning news.
read cowboy part I, here.

wednesday, june 14th, 2006

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Men in Trucks: They just can't let go of their toys...

Once upon a time, a shirk-ling among Pennsylvania highways was being torn up. (The project was locally based, in suburban Philly, rather than another brainchild of one of Penndot's erratic mood swings- at the very least, there was that much to be thankful for.) 313 was not the biggest of the big... not the most widely traveled, not the most overused. 313 was maybe the running back in the high school football pecking order of roads.

For a year or more, business owners along the highway speculated and griped about what effect the construction would pose on their bottom line. Some talked of lower than normal inventory orders, others conceived of closing for the duration of the work or laying off staff. Some merely made due with trying to direct their customers through the maze of detour signs and cement trucks.

I spoke to one clothing retailer who said he'd fantasized about taking a large portion of his inventory to the next local government meeting. "Since they're not doing anything to help the business owners, the least they can do now is throw some money our way. Besides, you've seen how these guys dress. They need all the help they can get." He gave me his 'off the record' wink...

Where local government took a holiday, the media at least tried to step in. Another storeowner told me about a fluke Monday, early during the scheduled construction, when a large number of people had somehow made it to the store. Several used its back alleyway entrance. (One set of mother and child actually made the mad dash across the highway, skirting between open pits and bulldozers. After an hour, still in the store, still waiting to be helped amidst the crowd, Child said to Mother: "Let's leave before the hole out front gets bigger!")

As this store was already short staffed, when a reporter tried to speak with the owner "over how the construction was affecting business" he was unable to steal even a moment. The owner told me later, "In two weeks time, that was the busiest we ever were!"

The most amusing note about all this construction is how it brings out the little boy in every man. For all their complaining- for all their worries accentuated by dollar signs, and red zones, and bottom lines- where was every male owner and employee when the big trucks arrived? Watching the stone being hauled in and out, the pits being dug, and the giant bulldozers racing here, there, everywhere. The look of glee on these faces was borderline reverent...

All of this reminded me of the day care center I worked at while I was in college. Every Thursday morning on trash day, the boys would NOT sit still at the breakfast table. They had to run to the windows and watch the garbage men go by in their great, reeking trucks. They cheered and begged the men to honk their horns. Obligingly, many did, most waved, and I think all of them smiled at those fat little faces plastered against the glass.

Even amidst the 313 construction of 2006, a suburban Philly mom told me that when the road was being worked on in front of her place, on a particular Friday, the men graciously invited all the neighborhood kids to explore the trucks after they were done for the day. With supervision, the kids climbed into the seats and made every sort of mechanical sound possible. Afterward, the workers brought pizza for all.

Childless cynic that I am, I asked her who paid and wondered aloud if this wasn't time better spent moving ahead with the job??

The mother just scowled at me and walked away.

wednesday, june 7th, 2006