December 16, 2003

First Post!

This is testing for the new blog.

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December 23, 2003

Welcome to the New Improved Pedantry

I've been pretty much off the web for the last six weeks or so.

I've moved to Woluwé-Saint-Pierre, which was a lot rougher than I expected it to be. I've been pretty busy at work too. But, it's Christmas, and even the lowly code monkey gets a week off at the end of the year.

I haven't been reading blogs, and for the last four weeks I've had only limited access to my e-mail. For those of you who have my "regular" e-mail address, I can't get to it until I manage to move a monitor from my office to my new appartment. My old e-mail at yahoo.co.uk is so spam-ridden it's hardly readable. So, use my work e-mail to get in touch with me. For those with my phone number, call me on my GSM because my 016 number obviously won't reach me anymore.

For everybody else - pedantisme -at- yahoo.co.uk is your best bet.

There isn't much here yet. I'm still putting the link list back together. [23/12/2003 17:15 Update: Link list is there, although in utter disarray as far as organisation goes. If you ought to be on that list but aren't, comment or drop me a line.] Tomorrow I'm hoping to scan in the next chapter from Grandpa Martens autobiography. I have brought some posts over from Blogspot. If you have any favourites to request, now is the time.
 

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January 2, 2004

Yes, I'm still here

Sorry - I've been studying for my Chinese exam next week. If I manage to make enough progress, there's half-finished book review I intend to put up later.

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January 12, 2004

Exam Week

I have exams this week: Russian tonight, Chinese on Thursday, my Russian oral on Friday, then the Chinese oral next Wednesday. Consequently, slow blogging. I have been fairly active on A Fistful of Euros rather than here, but I'm going to put up a fairly political post here soon. Since it's rather to the left of AFOE, I thought this would be a better venue.

I'm not prepared for my Russian exam. Frankly, the textbook is the major problem. There are, according to the prof, no good Russian texts in Dutch, so she picked the least bad of a crappy lot. That means that she departs from the text a lot, and since the text doesn't have vocabulary lists after each chapter, there is no fixed lexicon that I can just study. I have to use my frequently disorganised notes.

That isn't that way I like to study language. Language is something you sort of muddle through until you get a feel for it. Anyway, we'll see how it goes this evening.

I'm much better prepared for my Chinese exam, or at least I think so. The "luister exam" - listening test - didn't go that well, but I did okay. That means I'll have a little time between tonight's exam and Thursday's. So, with some luck I'll get to this big post I have in mind tomorrow. There are a number of threads that I think I can incorporate into something useful: Marx' On the Jewish Question (discussed here), the headscarf issue in Europe (look here and here), this post over at Crooked Timber, and some of the ideas behind Islamic law.

Update: The Russian exam went okay, I think. There were only two questions out of 50 that I had no idea about, and one where I just guessed. Can any of my Russophone readers tell me when the right answer was to this one:

Fill in the blank:

Он _____________, Она бабушка.

[If the Russian hasn't come through in readable form:

On __________, Ona babushka.]

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January 18, 2004

Hacked

Some pissant script kiddie hacked my workstation at home today. I don't know how the little fucker got through the firewall - I assume it has a bug that I don't know about since it isn't supposed to let folks walk through it. Anyway, the asshole ran the SunOS rootkit, but fortunately wasn't competent enough to recognise that he was running one designed for a different version of Solaris. So he screwed up. If he had had the brains of a gnat, I would never have even known he was there.

However, since login and xlogin aren't working right anymore, I have to reinstall the OS in order to use the machine outside of single-user mode, and my install disks are still packed up from the move. Since I still haven't got furniture to unpack it all to, I haven't been able to find the disks. I can probably borrow a disk at work, if not I'll find it later at home.

But for the moment, that means I'm stuck - again!!! - without my own computer at home. Between spammers attacking blogs and making my e-mail useless, and now this little shit running his rootkit, I'm beginning to wonder how much future this Internet thing really has.

Update: I found how the little fucker got in. I had left a port open from back when I still lived in California. Some little dick scanned an entire block of numbers for a login propmpt and found me. Great - I did leave the door open. I still want the little shit to die.

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January 22, 2004

Done with exams...

...finally. Now back to work, and hopefully back to blogging. Still haven't managed to fix my machine at home, so it's only slow, delayed blogging from work and in those moments when the wife will let me have the iBook.

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February 3, 2004

Been out for a while

Sorry, I've been off-line for a couple days. I have some heavy slogging this week, but I think things will pick up by the end. I'm almost done with this book review I've been preparing for AFOE.

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February 16, 2004

Where I get my information

Three of my readers, Aidan Kehoe over here, Brad here, and a new commenter, Mukendi Kakesu Kazumba, here, who is a descendant of the pre-colonial Luba state which, IIRC, was mostly in what is now Kasaï in the central DRC, have all asked where I get the information for some of my recent posts. With some shame, I have to admit it's mostly the Internet.

[Warning - a small spoiler ahead]

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February 24, 2004

Oops

I think I accidentally killed someone's comment on the last post. I don't know for sure, and I don't know whose it was. At any rate, whoever you are, it was an accident and you are not being censored, so feel free to repost it.

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March 15, 2004

Delays, delays, delays

Sorry folks, I had expected to get up the rest on Huntington on the weekend, or failing that, today. Real life keeps interfering in extra-curricular activities. I'm not sure I'll be able to put anything up until Wednesday. In the mean time, go look at the coverage of recent events in Spain over at AFOE. Start here and keep rolling.

BTW - any readers out there who are experts in Salishan languages? I'm trying to find out which Salishan languages, if any, still have a reasonably healthy speaking community (e.g., spoken in most households in at least one place and has at least some speakers under the age of 10.) Ethnologue suggests that the answer is none.

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March 26, 2004

A Richness of Martens

I just came across the title phrase. Apparently it is the nominally correct collective singular for the small Canadian forest animal known as the marten.

According to Wikipedia: Martens are carnivorous animals related to weasels, minks, and wolverines.

I'm quite bemused, but then, it's been a long week.

 

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April 29, 2004

Bad week for blogging

I've been up to my nads in ginormous hash tables and functions that won't %#!&ing run fast enough. And Allegro LISP... how in smeg do you get Allegro LISP to return memory to the operating system?

The one fast UNIX I have access to is being monopolised by other, more immediately revenue producing functions, so everything takes five times as long. Therefore, there hasn't been much responding to comments, or posting or even reading blogs.

On top of that, the wife is off to San Diego for a month tomorrow morning, so things have been a mite hectic at home. She's been trying to get my dot-debts refinanced at a non-usurous interest rate, so we can pay off my American banks before Greenspan raises interest rates and the dollar shoots up. It's a little weird to have my personal life actualy depend in such a direct way on the business news. Weird, and a little disturbing. I don't exactly appreciate the power Alan Greenspan has over my life, especially since not only did I not vote for him, no one voted for him.

Also, we bought a new - and desperately needed - car this week: a Citroën G3, a car with a sort of resemblance to the famous "Deux Chevaux" in the same way that the new VW Beetle resembles the classic Bug. If you happen to know something bad about the G3, please, for the love of God, don't tell me. The papers have been signed and if we've made a horrible mistake I just don't want to know.

At least this week I feel that I've made some real progress. My code runs - slowly - and actually does the things that it is supposed to.

I have discovered something new this week that I cannot find documented anywhere in the information retrieval or corpus linguistics literature, something so obvious and so easy to implement that I don't think I can possibly be the only person to think of it. It works. So far, it works brilliantly and really, really fast. It's just possible that I'm the first person ever to face this problem directly - having a monolingual term discovery algorithm that works well enough to use for bilingual term translation discovery - but I doubt it.

And, to top it all off, I have exams next month. The luisterexam in Chinese was yesterday, the Russian one was last week. The rest starts in three weeks: Russian, Monday the 17th; Chinese, Tuesday the 18th; Russian oral, Wednesday the 19th; Chinese oral, Tuesday the 25th.

If that seems masochistic to you, imagine how it seems to me. Why do I do this to myself?

Sorry to rant. Just... it's been a long week.
 

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May 12, 2004

Silly blog games

I should be sleeping. I've taken the rest of the week off from work to study for my exams. If my wife is reading this from Idaho, honey, I did try to get some sleep, okay? It's just the listening test tomorrow, only 5% of my grade.

Really, if I pass both my classes I'll be insufferable. I work full time and study Chinese and Russian in the evenings in classes that take place in Dutch, a language I studied for about a year and a half and still speak really badly. The only way I could have made it worse would have been to take Arabic on top of everything else - an option I considered. This is about the outer limit of my abilities, assuming I haven't finally bit off more than I can chew. I have limits - I've flunked enough times before to work that out - it just never seems to prevent me from engaging in these sado-masochistic bouts of schoolwork.

Anyway, via The Virtual Stoa, I notice the latest blog game:

Yes, it's the new game, to post choice lines from twenty randomly-selected songs on your preferred random-selection-of-songs generator. Me, I used the "party shuffle" feature on my regular playlist on iTunes (617 songs) to pick out a bunch, which the same "party shuffle" feature alleged were "up and coming". Then I edited the list to remove (i) instrumental pieces and (ii) more than one track by the same artist. And this is what we were left with.

I was listening to my iTunes at that moment and contempated following the instructions. But then, I decided to do something different. The song I was listening to is one of the (IMHO) better bits of francopop. It was also a song whose lyrics I tried to translate for my literary translation class in Montreal a million years ago - a class that I didn't fail, but where I learned that I have no particular gift for literary translation.

I think I'm a good essayist. I have a basic style that I acquired as a 16 year old freshman in Indiana, primarily in response to the red pen of this woman. My writing skills have at least half a dozen times saved me from the consequences of mediocre work. I also think that I used to be a fairly good French translator, and I like to think that I still am. But, I've discovered over the years that essay skills don't automatically translate into poetry or even fiction skills, and you have to have native literary skills to do literary translation.

So, I'm going to put up the whole lyrics to the song in question - Mylène Farmer, D?senchant?e - along with a mediocre translation. It's frustrating to know when you're just missing that perfect translation in your own native language, to read poetic language and be unsure how you ought to interpret it, to know you're writing crap. Worse still, I do not own a good French-English dictionary. I never have. I always relied on monolingual dictionaries and specialised glossaries. I have a Collins-Robert at the office, but without it I find myself asking whether I've really understood something, or really considered the options in translating some passage.

It's a frustrating feeling, especially when applying decade old disused skills. Anyway, voila, not my best effort but my best effort at 1 am in insominac mode, without dictionaries:

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May 25, 2004

Survived another exam season

My last exam - the Chinese oral - was tonight. I am done with exams for a few weeks, until I do my Dutch final. I'm not stressing over Dutch. I think I passed everything, and but I think my Russian grade will be close enough to the line that I won't be able to take much joy from it.

You don't advance in a language by getting A's. You advance by not failing. This is important to understand when you take a language: There will come a point when it will just start to gel in your mind, and you'll start learning very quickly. You have to hold out and keep paying attention until you get to that point.

The only problem is that now I wish I had done Spanish instead of Russian.

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May 27, 2004

Hi, honey. Enjoying the Microsoft conference?

I note from the comments bar that the wife has been reading my blog. Alas, there is little I can do to allay her concerns at this time.

I dunno honey, would you like to go to Latin America this fall? I mean, you're over in San Diego without me. *sniff*

As for my exams, I'll find out the second of June how they went. Same day the new Harry Potter movie opens.

And as for taking languages in the fall... you may have a point. I tell you what, I'll just take Chinese, but then you have to take French. Okay? I have worked too hard on my Chinese to give up.

And lastly, have you given any thought to the matter in your last e-mail? I owe you one, but it'll help if I have a year or two to prepare if it involves anything long distance.

As for everybody else, I just got back from seeing The Day after Tomorrow and I'm going to try to get a review up on AFOE tonight or in the morning, before it opens in the US tomorrow night.

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June 3, 2004

Did okay in Chinese

I finished with a 77 - I guess basically a solid B. Russian grades are delayed. I'll know by tomorrow. I've had to drop Dutch. I just haven't the time for it this summer. And, I've seen the new Harry Potter. No review. It was okay, but it plays like a middle movie. Cuaron did okay though. The camera effects were a cute touch. If you're into Potter, you're going to go see it anyway. If you hate Potter, there's nothing here to change your mind.

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June 7, 2004

Did okay in Russian too

Got a 69. Call it a C+. It's really irritating to see only 8 points of difference between Russian and Chinese despite an enormous difference in work.

Anyway, I have a busy week ahead. There will be very little from me for the immediate future.

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June 10, 2004

Incompatibility issues

Had some issues with the new anti-spam measures at AFOE. The problem is gone now, it's possible to make comments again. A tip of the hat to Aidan for catching it. I though I was just getting less traffic with school out.

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June 18, 2004

Out to Lunch

I hate to have to step out while there's so much to blog. The Pentagon admitting that Donald Rumsfeld is a war criminal and the effect this is having on US opposition to the ICC; the death of Reagan, who really deserves to be remembered for making such a mess of things; the European elections, which bode ill both for the European project and its discontents; the up-and-coming American election, which is shaping up to be a stellar example of the failure of electoral politics.

But, we're reaching the tense part of IVF here at the Rancho Martens, and I have a research project deadline coming up. As little as this looks like anything, it is proof that I am getting somewhere with the project:

Anyway, this all means thin blogging in the summer, after thin blogging in the spring. I'm going to try to get more up at AFOE, especially a piece on the linguistic politics of air traffic control. After this project, I want to also get up a piece on how Ludwig von Mises was the first postmodernist. That should piss off all the right people. And, Grandpa needs to get to Africa soon, via Kansas and New York in the Jazz age.

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July 6, 2004

Still out

I'm sorry, but I'm still away from my blog. I apologise to all my collegues at AFOE. The stressful part of IVF is not over and I have to get my research done by the end of the month.

By the way, today is the tenth anniversary of the first time I met my wife and the fourth anniversary of our marriage. Happy anniversary, honey!

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July 26, 2004

Writer's block, Amish Paradise and forshadowing the end of Anglo rule

Belgium is hell in July.

The Belgians, of course, know this instinctively. I don't quite understand how a nation can continue to function when the entire population is on vacation at the same time for a whole month. The trams get cut back to the point where they're useless out in the eastern suburbs of Brussels and the weather isn't much to write home about either. I still have to wear a jacket in the morning in late July.

Of course, I have this extra problem: allergies. Something in Belgium sprays its pollen in July. Something that just about kills me every time. And every summer, I tell myself, next year. Next year, don't forget to take your goddamn vacation in July like every one else, and get as far from Belgium as you can! And every year - this is my third year here - I have to be in Belgium in July for some reason.

This year, it's the final report for my research in translation automation. The work is done. The results are excellent, spectacular even. In another year, under other circumstances, I would feel tempted to find some venture capital and see if I can revolutionise the language industry. Instead, I've spent the last week wheezing in bed, taking hits off my Duovent bong, popping Tylenol and Claratin, and snorting this foul-smellng shit my doctor gave me for hay fever.

I'm suffering from the most profound writer's block I think I've ever had. I can't remember ever having felt so unable to organise or express my thoughts. I have tons to blog, and vast quantities of material on how to profit from the statistical properties of the lexicon, but I can barely bring myself to read my e-mail. Writing this paper is like having acute constipation. I push and I push and it hurts like hell, and all that comes out is a little bit of crap.

But, I'm back at work today and that brings me to my e-mail, specifically a pair of letters pointing me to articles on the web of interest:

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August 18, 2004

I hate math

Actually, I don't hate math half as much as having to write papers about it. I am up to my nads in logarithms, sums and dot products right now. It's not even hard math, it's just mind bogglingly dull to have to explain.

So why, oh why, come August every year, do I start to contemplate taking a shot at this? I mean, this would be logical, and would make loads of sense in light of my career to date. Heck, I got a mention at KU Leuven. I could qualify for a doctoral programme there and never even have to deal with a foreign language. But no, I gotta do everything the hard way.

Why on earth did I ever sign on to do statistical, mathematical, computational linguistics, a field that I knew damn well was going to involve copious amounts of math? What ever possessed me to think it might be a good idea to get a trade where advancement was likely to involve further math education? Did I learn nothing from the life story of Gregor Cantor?

Apparently not. Some days, I think I must be trying to drive myself past the bend.

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September 13, 2004

The Siege

Kanaal Twee - independent local Flemish TV which shows American films, reruns and some locally produced reality TV - is showing The Siege right now. It's an odd choice for the first Monday after 9/11, but it seems to me they ran it last year at this time too.

I remember how controversial it was when it came out. I remember that there were protests and complaints of anti-Arab defamation. Now, watching it again, it seems positively sympathetic to them. American government - particularly the military and intelligence people - is portrayed as badly as terrorists. There are at least two shots at Israel - effectively accusations of torture and abuse that are portrayed as among the causes of terrorism.

Particularly disturbing is the torture scene, ending in a heard but unseen shot. It seems so much more plausible now than it did in '98. Reputable legal figures discuss the morality of torture today. The notion that the US might kidnap and detain someone secretly seems positively tame in an era when rumors still circulate - at least in Europe - that Osama bin Laden is really in a secret US prison. Abandoning civil liberties for the sake of anti-terrorism is all too real.

I wonder if they show it on American TV at all these days.

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October 7, 2004

Out of town

I meant to put this up earlier - I'm in Canada for a couple weeks on hiatus if anybody's looking for me. I have irregular Net access.

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November 10, 2004

Vacation

I've aranged for a four day vacation over Armistice Day and I'm probably going to be off the 'Net for it. I'll be back Monday.

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December 3, 2004

Obviously, I've been out for a bit

I noticed today that there were no entries on the front page of my blog. I'm on a bit of a sabbatical for personal reasons. I'm sorry I'm a bit out of touch. I will be back soon.

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December 7, 2004

My very first citation in the literature

I'm still out. Sorry folks - I just have more on my plate right now than I can handle. I want to answer some of my e-mail - which I haven't read in like a week - and get back to Clement in the comments (who I'd love to meet in person, but just can't right now).

But in the mean time this has come to my attention. Titled Generación automática de hojas de estilo XSLT mediante Programación Genética, it looks like it was printed up in Actas del II Congreso español sobre Metaheurísticas, Algoritmos Evolutivos y bioinspirados in February 2003. What is remarkable about this bit of Spanish prose is that it discusses using genetic algorithms to build XSLT filters for document conversion, and, that it cites "el único trabajo publicado relacionado con el tema", which, as it turns out, was written by me.

It was not my proudest work. I did it for the grade in John Koza's genetic algorithms class at Stanford. I knew that it would, like all the other class papers, be bound and indexed, and I assumed it would spend the rest of its days resisting parasites on some rarely visited shelf in the Stanford Engineering library. Basically, since I was doing XSLT at Sun at that particular moment, I thought, hey, why not combine my job with my class? So, I did this project where I tried to use genetic algorithms to inductively build an XSLT filter that met certain specifications. It worked, kinda, for a simple problem, but it was hardly an efficient solution to designing document conversion software.

I figured I was the only guy out there nuts enough to even try such a dumbass thing, so I never figured there'd be any follow up. I was wrong.

Alas, my hispanophone colleagues have come to that same conclusion I did:

Algo tan aparentemente sencillo como lo que se ha planteado aquí, la extracción de contenido de un documento XML, ha supuesto un esfuerzo considerable, y aún así los resultados obtenidos no han sido todo lo satisfactorios que hubiéramos deseado.

Even something so apparently simple as what we considered here, extracting the contents of an XML document, has taken considerable effort and still the results we have obtained have not been as satisfactory as we would have wished.

Voila: my first cited contribution to the body of human technical knowledge. Someday, I'll be able to write about what I'm doing now, and hopefully get cited for writing something that doesn't cause me mild embarassment.

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December 13, 2004

Yes, you can get chicken pox twice

My wife has chicken pox, and it seems I gave it to her.

I had a skin problem a couple weeks ago, and once I got to see a dermatologist, he took one look at it and said herpes zoster - a.k.a. shingles. I was healing fast, so there was no real problem for me. But, herpes zoster is also chicken pox, and now my wife has a fever and is covered in spots.

This puts a crimp in any Christmas plans I had. My wife has had chicken pox before, so how this can be is something of a mystery to me.

Anyway, so I am now catching up on my mail. There's lots of stuff going on next door at AFOE that I need to catch up on from my unscheduled sabatical. So, I ought to point out that my middle school friend Matt Bolton has started a blog on labour affairs called Unions-Firms-Markets. Go take a look.

I'll be back soon. I have scans from Grandpa and there's plenty going on in the news to blog. If we aren't going anywhere for X-mas, I ought to have some time to get around to it.

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December 23, 2004

Off to Valencia for Christmas

The wife has recovered from her bout of chicken pox and we got a last-minute package to Benidorm, the Fort Lauderdale of Spain. I mentioned this at work and was told that at least I could practice my Dutch there.

I don't care. I don't care if it is the cheesiest tourist trap in Spain. I don't care if it rains the whole time. I don't care. I just need to get out of Brussels for a week.

Anyway, Merry Christmas to all, and in the New Year I'm back to blogging.

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January 5, 2005

The Wisdom of Crowds?

Apparently, some online gambling service is taking bets on who gets whacked in the next Harry Potter novel. Best odds: 6 to 4 Hagrid bites it. Robbie Coltrane's a decent actor, I wonder how he feels about this gambling on his career prospects.

The big payoff - 16 to 1 - is if Harry croaks in book 6. I'd have put the odds closer to 1000 to 1 myself.

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February 18, 2005

It's kind of annonying...

...when you realise that suddenly a lot more people are reading your blog, only to discover that 90% of your visitors are googling for pictures of Phoebe Cates.

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Wrote a first draft of my CV

One more thing that needs to be done for the doctorate.

Man, it's depressing to see your life boiled down to a few pages. The current version is five pages long, but I'm going to reorganise it down to two. It lists every school I've attended since I was 13 - eleven schools in total - and every job I've held for more than a month since I stopped delivering newspapers - eight jobs total. And for all that, I have just two completed degrees - one useless and one with honours - and a disturbingly short list of real professional accomplishments. I came up with four of those, but one of them is "keeping my mental health despite considerable adversity" - that will probably not be on the final version.

I look like a total dilettante, which isn't totally false, but my record is mostly the product of wanting to go to school to do exactly what I'm trying to do now and having to choose between it and paying my rent.

Most of it could just be cut, like my work as a cowboy boot salesman and my pizza dispatcher job. I'm debating whether or not to post it. Probably not.

Of the profs I've sent requests for letters of recommendation to, I've had exactly one response. It was from the prof least likely to give me one and it was a flat "no". Fair enough, I was one student in an enormous cattle class five years ago. It's not reasonable to expect the guy to even remember me.

But I haven't heard back from my profs in Belgium either, and that's beginning to give me the nerves.

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February 22, 2005

It's official

I'm joining the ranks of the unemployed. I knew this was coming for a couple of weeks, and I've been expecting it for longer.

But, there's good news on the PhD front. The prof whose recommendation can most help me has agreed to write a letter for me.

There's still no financing, and that worries me some. I don't want to create the appearance of a burden on my wife. I know she worries about being the single breadwinner, even though her pay is awfully good for Belgium. Her contract expires in a couple of years, and even though I suspect she'll be a good candidate for a permanent post, it's not guaranteed.

I need to find some funding, if nothing else to reduce her stress.

I've been considering my options:

  1. Try to convince the Belgian unemployment authorities that the best thing they can do for my long term earning potential is to pay me unemployment while I'm in school.

    This has the advantage that it comes to some 60% of my last pay and comes without other attached strings. The downside is that I have been told that they never, ever, do it for doctorates.

  2. Not tell the unemployment office that I'm doing a doctorate, pretend to be looking for work, and try hard to appear completely inexperienced and monolingually English so that they can't find me a job.

    Upside: 60% of my last pay. Downside: Dishonest, probably illegal and there is an easy to find paper trail to show that I'm doing it.

  3. Try to get funding from scholarship organisations.

    Unfortunately, I missed the fall deadline in January. I'm not eligible for developing world scholarships, and I'm not hard up enough to qualify for means-tested assistance. It may be an option in spring though.

  4. Find an assistanceship or research project.

    Tried that. So far, no luck, but there are some prospects for next year. I have a few more cards I can play on that front though. I haven't even gone to the computer science or EE departments yet. The projects that most fit my background are not a option for a while, so I'm not too optimistic.

  5. Going back into the text business: translating, copywriting, copyediting.

    Downside: The money is really inconsistent.

  6. Look for part time and temporary work.

    The problem is that I am too damn old to abandon any sense of dignity and wait tables. Besides, I doubt that most service jobs would be interested in having me. I can't and won't put in the kinds of hours that short term tech work entails, and I'm too old to peddle my phone skills as a receptionist.

    I've been contempating trying to get a Trinity TESOL certificate or a CELTA - it can be done as a 4-week training programme for €1000-2000 - and peddling myself on the private education market. If I can do English and math, I think I have a decent chance of making it work, and it adds to my resumé. Besides, I've done that kind of thing before and that's basically how my mom makes a living. The certification makes it a lot easier to get paying gigs in regular schools.

Any thoughts on the matter?

(I know, blogging here has been awfully self-centred for a while. But, getting fired is really demotivating at the office, so I expect to get back to serious blogging in the immediate future.)

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March 1, 2005

Working for the Dark Side

I'm working most of the week on a consulting gig for the Dark Side of the Force. (Full disclosure: I am married to an employee of the Imperial Forces, which means that the Empire will soon be the sole source of household revenue for us. So, I'm already pretty thoroughly corrupted.)

At any rate, this means I have been less quick in responding to e-mail and comments. Sorry about that. I'm hoping to get to the backlog this evening, and maybe even get a post up somewhere. I'm thinking about a post on the Dark Side's catering services for AFOE, since I've recently become familiar with them.

Speaking of working for the Dark Side, I just saw the last Angel on DVD. Kanaal Twee is still running season 5, but we got ahead by ordering the DVD. It merits a post too, especially since the end is... not the happy ending the show's premise would have led one to expect. I've been contempating whether or not to see a lesson for Iraq in it, following in Abu Aardvark's footsteps.

Also, I'd be grateful for any ideas on how to write a computer science and math PhD proposal in such a way that a linguistics department will buy into it. I'm having some difficulties on that front. Also, advice on the part-time English teacher's market in Belgium would be welcome, since I'm thinking more and more that a PhD with an independent income has to beat one without. And, anyone with an opinion about Russian immersion schools could give me ahnd by speaking up. I'm thinking of doing a short stint in Petrozavodsk over the summer. In most ways, I'd rather study Chinese. But, needs must as the devil drives.

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March 10, 2005

Who knew?

After trying for so long, and actually doing IVF once, who knew that all I had to do was get laid off from my job for my wife to get pregnant the old fashioned way?

We went to Hôpital St-Luc to have the blood test done this morning. It's kind of ironic really, we had an appointment this afternoon to see the IVF guy about starting another round of fertility treatment that we no longer will need. It's been quite a month, what with getting laid off and applying for a PhD. Now I've got nine more to look forward before becoming a father.

Lots to do. First up: Gotta get a Belgian driver's license. I've been told in no uncertain terms "I am not driving myself to the maternity ward." Second, this is the last summer that I can spend running off to study languages. I need to make some decisions about that. If I can find a three month Chinese program, I think I'm just going to do it.

I'm trying not to focus on all that can still go wrong. After trying so hard for so long to get pregnant - and thinking a medically unassisted pregnancy was out of the question - it's hard not to worry, not to fear that it may all still go catastrophically south. But there's little to gain from worrying, so I'm trying not to.

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March 21, 2005

Bailing for a bit

I'm going offline for a week. I've been behaving weirdly even by my own rather liberal standards and I need to wrap up my PhD application. I'm answering e-mail, but otherwise, I think I need to denetwork until I have a research plan.

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March 30, 2005

Taipei Language Center Shanghai - help!

Okay, I need a little help. The place I wanted to go in China for the summer is full, and I'm looking elsewhere. I'm thinking hard about this place, the branch of the Taipei Language Center in Shanghai. The problem is that it's not entirely clear to me what they are offering. I sent and e-mail asking, and here's what I got back.

thanks for your mail! This is Hongqiao branch. Except for group courses plan for students from abroad , which you see on (http://www.chinese-center.com/eng/PresentRecruit.htm), we also offer fixed group courses lasting for 3-4 months. see http://www.chinese-center.com/eng/E_course.htm . as to those classes, we will open new ones as soon as 3 students regist the same level. but for individual course, you could regist any time while we could arrange for you in 2 days. you may first send registration fee to our bank account, while send us your registration form as well as your schedule for Chinese course. ( We opens 7:00am-9:00pm, whole days of the month) As to the apartment, all of our 3 branch schools could help you to find suitalble apartments as to your requirments. we Hongqiao could recommend an apartment, named the Couch Hotel, offer daily service, 2 km from the school, the price is RMB 4000/month. (RMB 150/day) you may see http://www.chinese-center.com/eng/E_contact_hq.htm. you may also visit the page of Pudong http://www.chinese-center.com/eng/E_contact_pd.htm, and Xuhui http://www.chinese-center.com/eng/E_contact_xh.htm to see the prices and surroundings. As to the visa, we only offer student' visa for full time students( 700hours/year). If you apply for visitor's visa to China, we could extend visa for 3-6month for you.(the charge is about RMB 500-600).

Now, I think this means that they want me to sign up for the classes on this page rather than the slightly cheaper ones here, which are only scheduled for two weeks in June. Furthermore, I guess this means that as long as there are at least three students who want to take the classes I want, there's no problem staying all summer, since I can just keep getting my vistor's visa adjusted. But, if there aren't enough students, then I have to do indivudual classes at 124RMB per hour, which is more than I can really afford.

Any insight? Anybody with suggestions? I looked at BLCU - the best known school for what I have in mind - but it seems that I can only get in about 8 weeks of scheduled classes given the schedule they've posted, at 20hrs of classes a week. If I'm going to do this, I want to do it full bore. I'm not a tourist, I want to spend as many hours in effective Chinese classses as I can, but I'm only available from June 1 to early September.

This is my last chance. Nibblet's birth in November is going to make this a lot harder to do in the future. But, I don't want to just go and run the risk of being stuck with unexpectedly larger bills.

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May 18, 2005

Bookbuying when you're not the ordinary reader

John Emerson over at Idiocentrism has a piece up on finding those hard to get volumes. I can relate - I'm trying to get a Latin edition of Busbecq's Turkish Letters. If Niblett's going to have to learn Latin in the Belgian school system, I figure I ought to brush mine up. :^)

As for his specific questions, I have no answers. For Chinese books, I use a local shop specialised in Chinese, although I came across an excellent Chinese section at a small bookstore in Geneva a while back, but I've forgotten the name of the store. I had the same experience with ordering European books to come to an American address, but now that I live in Europe, I use the wife's APO box to order stuff from Amazon, and FNAC for most other stuff.

My Dutch exam is tomorrow, and the paperwork came through from Russia. So in the morning I'm off to the Russian consulate - which has no known open hours - and in the evening, the written exam in Dutch. Then, hopefully, I'll be posting.

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May 28, 2005

No title, no topic, just numbness and fear

I will not be blogging for a while. The truth is I don't know when I will be again.

My wife is experiencing a relatively rare side effect of amniocentesis - it has torn the chorion and she is leaking amniotic fluid. She is in the hospital with a week of forced bedrest. I don't know what the distribution of outcomes is in this kind of case. I do know that women and fetuses do recover from this sort of thing, that some pregnancies continue without trouble. I also know that many do not. And I don't care what the odds are - I only care what the outcome is for my wife and baby.

For those of you of a religious bent, please pray for my wife and child. I'm an agnostic, and I'm not really sure how God would treat prayers from the likes of me, but I'm trying anyway.

Obviously, I'm not going to Russia any time soon. I know the European referendum is coming up, I know there's a lot going on in the world. And I've had a hard time lately finding it in me to care enough to blog. Now, I can't even imagine it. I can't imagine any event taking place further away than my wife's room having any effect on me at all. I'm sorry.

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May 31, 2005

...and then, much worse...

There's an added complication. Now, my wife's blood test shows an inflammation. If it has passed to the baby, then the pregnancy has to be terminated. Unfortunately, the only way to be sure is to do another amniocentesis, but the fluid around the baby is still too low to do one.

One of the questions I thought I had an answer to has a different answer than the one I thought: It takes a week or more for anmiotic fluid levels to return to normal. Now we have to wait and wait before we know if we can continue with the pregnancy... and the doctors are saying it's maybe a 50-50 chance...

Oh Lord, this is hard. I don't know how I'm going to take a week of this. Yesterday, things were looking so good, now... all I know is that my baby is alive, his or her heart is beating at a normal rate. The amniotic fluid levels were much lower on Friday than I thought... Kiera stopped leaking because there was no longer any fluid to leak. Now, they've begun to come back up. Maybe the hole sealed, maybe it sealed before the infection. Maybe the amniotic membrane was intact enough to protect the baby. Maybe the inflammation they found in her blood was just a by-product of the trouble they've been having giving her an I.V. Maybe it will all be okay... and maybe not.

A life lesson for everyone: Worrying about things that haven't happened doesn't stop them from happening. If pre-emptive fear could immunise you from bad things happening, I would have no problems in life whatsoever. I've been so scared for so long... After all the trouble we had just conceiving, I was so terrified this pregnancy wouldn't last... and now that there's really something to be scared about, I haven't been spared an iota of that fear.

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June 2, 2005

...and then rather better...

We had some good news today. Kiera' amniotic fluid is way up, and there are no firm signs of infection, just an ambiguous protein in her blood that may have been caused by something else.

We're not out of the woods, but we really needed good news today. And we got some.

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June 6, 2005

And, now some modicum of relief...

It looks like Kiera and the baby will be okay. They might let her out on Friday, but today's ultrasound shows enough fluid for the baby's lungs to properly develop. I'm still spending almost all my time at the hospital, but it looks like it will all turn out. Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts, prayers and support.

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June 16, 2005

The power of men over events, rather than of events over men

I always thought the title was a quote from Marx, but for the moment, I can't seem to find it anywhere. It's always struck me as the most perfect definition of progress. I've seen other attempts to define that slippery notion - definitions involving material things like nutrition or per capita power consumption, others who end up creating subtly circular definitions by defining it in terms of quantities of utility or happiness, or something else every bit as slippery as "progress" if not more. But those definitions always struck me as inherently lacking the simplicity and power of defining "progress" as "the power of men over events, rather than of events over men"

It also points to the ambiguity and inadequacy of progress. Historical progress, events that virtually everyone agrees were progressive, have given men power over events that once had power over them. A bad harvest need no longer mean starvation. Diseases that once killed masses completely arbitrarily are now easily controlled and treated. But no primitive man, subject to the whims of the elements, ever found himself powerless in the face of an economic recession, or concerned about the outbreak of a rare disease on the other side of the world, or afraid of terrorists flying airplanes into buildings.

Progress is eternally incomplete and eternally insufficient. A progressive poltical project is, by its very nature, non-utopian. It is these things because progress always creates new events beyond the power of men.

But the dialectics of progress go still further. The power of men over events does not exclude the prospect that the very same events may have power over the very same men. At the same time as they are most potent, men can equally be just as powerless.

Wednesday, June 15th, 2005 was a lovely early summer day in Belgium. It was warm, and on this rare occasion dry, without a cloud in the sky. It was a good day to be born. And, as the Klingons say, it was a good day to die.

In the afternoon of the day before, we received the full chromosome test from Kiera's pregnancy. The baby had trisomy 18 - Edward's syndrome. It's a rare chromosomal defect, diagnosed in 1 out of 3000 pregnancies. It affects girls three times as often as boys. Half of all trisomy 18 pregnancies end in miscarriage if left alone. 5-10% of those born alive survive the first year. An insignificant number survive to a double digit age - perhaps a dozen, ever. They are severely handicapped at best. Most, mercifully, don't make it that long.

There was no decision. There was, theoretically, a decision. But there was no real decision. There was no real alternative.

Kiera was still in the hospital on bedrest, following the loss of fluid after her amniocentesis now almost 3 weeks ago. We had been expecting another ultrasound. The amniotic fluid level was still not rising as fast as it should have. Now, we know. We know that the amniotic membrane most likely was fragile because of the chromosomal defect. We know that it wasn't refilling very quickly because of the foetus' deformed kidneys. Now, we know.

Legal personhood in Belgium is specifically fixed in the law at 26 weeks. This does not mean that a pregnancy cannot be terminated after that stage, just that the paperwork is easier. At 17 weeks, we did not need to give a legal name, and there is no addition to the national mortality statistics. But the foetus was far enough along that D&C and more recent vaccuum methods of termination are not possible. I don't know if it's for legal reasons or psychological ones or for sound medical reasons, but here, in the 17th week, a pregnancy is terminated by inducing labour and letting the contractions ensure that the birth is still.

There was no point in waiting.

We were moved to a labour room. We were told that it would take time for the cervix to dialate, on average two days and possibly as long as four. Mercifully, it was only some 16 hours. They gave her painkillers and a sedative, then later an epidural. They told her that there was no reason she needed to feel any pain.

16 hours. 16 hours is a long time to wait for the end.

I was in the hospital almost the whole time. I even got a couple hours of sleep. In the morning we talked. The water broke, but they said that it would still take a long time. Kiera said she had decided that we needed to name her. We had the chromosome test, we knew it was a girl.

We had had some disputes over the name earlier, before... We had left them aside until we knew the gender of the baby. Now we needed a name, and Kiera had picked a first name. She wanted me to pick the middle name. I said I would think about it. Then, a friend we had called picked me up to take me home. I planned to stay only a few minutes to fetch some clothes and feed the cats. But, as soon as we were in the car, her middle name came to me. I called Kiera by cellphone and told her.

She said it happened just after that. As if my daughter had only been waiting for the last thing I could give her in life: a middle name. Then it was over. I wasn't even there.

She was Coralia June Martens, and she was supposed to be my little girl. But it wasn't meant to be.

I'm crying as I type this. It's the first time I've written her name down. I wrote that whole line in my head yesterday, and it's been crying to get out.

I had no power over this event. No one did. Trisomy 18 is very rare. There's no failure of prenatal care, no lifestyle choice that significantly alters the chances. We had no power to make this a healthy pregnancy. We only had the power to know, and the power to end it. And the knowlege that not knowing and not terminating would only have been worse is cold, cold comfort indeed. The dialectic of men and events is not a simple matter of one having power over the other, and no revoltution, no new technology, no amount of progress will ever change that.

I know... I know that at 17 weeks the nervous system is far less than fully formed. I know that my baby couldn't know how we loved her. I don't think she could even have known she was alive. But we knew she was alive, and we loved her as fully and intensely as any parent could love a child. And I know that I'm mourning not nearly so much that small doomed fetus as all those hopes and dreams we poured into her. I was going to teach her to eat with chopsticks, and how to do modular arithmetic with M&M's, and the joys of reading dictionaries... Not what every parent plans, I suppose, but what I planned.

I had planned so many more ways to show my love. But the only concrete act of love we could show our daughter was to end her short little life before she could realise that she had it. Before it filled up with pain.

Kiera is physically fine. That it went so quickly, that she's felt so few pains afterwards, is all a sign that physically there are no problems. She leaves the hospital tomorrow. Then we see what happens next.

I had planned to make this the very last post to Pedantry. My intent was to say that I can't do this anymore. To say good-bye to writing this blog, or seeing how little real writing there has been of late, saying good-bye to trying. But Kiera called during the last paragraph and convinced me to not quit. At least not yet. But I can't promise you much right now. Right now, I can't promise anything. Right now, I have a bottle of excellent cognac to crawl into.

There are people who think that what we did was murder. That God wanted us to have a terrible miscarriage, or a severely deformed and handicapped child. That somehow it was righter to let her suffer. Fuck them. They don't understand. They couldn't. What we did was the greatest demonstration of our love that we could offer our wanted, sought after, beloved daughter.

There isn't the slightest, the tiniest hesitation in my mind that we did the right thing. This wasn't trisomy 21. There were none of the ambiguities about the quality of life linked to Down's syndrome. This wasn't a case of mosaic trisomy 18, where the prognosis for a reasonably full life is much better. I talked to the geneticist. I checked out how they did the test, how many samples they took, how they double-checked their control samples and did it over with different equipment just to make sure. I heard them describe the birth deformities already visible in the foetus afterwards, the things they hadn't been able to see clearly in a standard ultrasound so early in pregnancy.

She had a double cleft palate and seriously deformed organs. But she also had my feet and Kiera's hands. What we did, we did out of love for our daughter.

Good-bye, Coralia June. Good-bye.

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July 12, 2005

Seeing how the main page is blank...

I didn't really mean to be out this long, but I thought, well, it would take as long as it took. But, Kiera is back at work, and the main page is blank, so I thought maybe it was time I got back to life.

I found out today that I got into my PhD programme. There are details to iron out in September, but that can wait.

Anyway, so I plan to get back to blogging starting forthwith. I notice, for example, that Doug Merill over at AFOE just misses the reasons why Muslims are having a hard time feeling European - it's not citizenship laws, it's ?the largely unemployed, undereducated, masses of Muslims -- les jeunes de banlieues -- living in the suburban ghettos that ring major French cities". Social exclusion is not about slips of paper, it's first and foremost about security.

Also, I find myself agreeing completely with Edward Hugh on the relative importance of structural differences across the EU when compared to monetary policy. This is why we need to build exactly the kind of "social Europe" so repeatedly rejected by conservatives and business elites, and it is what seems to me to have been at stake in the EU constitution referenda. Not that you'd ever know that from reading the English language press.

And, the BBC's hesitation to use the word terrorist has caused some consternation over at Crooked Timber. This sounds to me like another job for a lexicographer. Words are defined by looking at how people use them, not how they say they use them. As far as I can tell a terrorist is someone who:

  1. uses violence to further political goals I don't approve of.
  2. uses violence against people I can identify with.
  3. operates in a way that undermines my confidence that the relevant authorities will be able to do something to stop them.
It hasn't always meant that, but that's the only definition I've found that fits the way it seems to be used in 21st century English.

Oh, I almost forgot: I want to thank everybody who wrote and linked from their own blogs with kind words after my last post. I'm sorry, I didn't answer anyone's e-mail or comment anywhere. No one was singled out - I really didn't answer anyone - and I don't want to give the impression that I didn't see your letters or your posts. At first, I just didn't want to deal with it over and over again when it was still so fresh and all I wanted was to move on. Then later, it just seemed awkward. But, Kiera and I do appreciate your thoughts and sympathy.

We're doing okay. It's traumatic, but there's nothing to be done but move on and try again.

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September 6, 2005

Back to Europe tomorrow

I've had no activity lately, in part because I've been in Canada for the last month. I fly back tomorrow - Air Canada via Calgary and London - so I'll try to put something up when I get back.

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October 7, 2005

On hiatus

I'm finally back in school doing a doctorate in linguistics. It's official as of last week. I'm only taking two classes - Dutch and Chinese - but I have been asked to produce a paper for presentation in two months, and it's taking up all my time. So, no blogging for a while. But I assume you're all used to that by now.

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November 25, 2005

CLIN 2005

I'm doing a presentation in Amsterdam on December 16th for CLIN 2005 on Minimum Description Length principles in computational linguistics. After that, I should have a bit more time and will return to blogging.

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January 4, 2006

On maintaining a blog

Writing is like taking a shit. It is at its most satisfying when it is something that has to come out, and the greatest pleasure it offers authors is the relief of release. I guess I've been pretty constipated lately.

I'd like to say it has to do with the events of this last summer, but I don't think this is really true. I could be wrong. One's own motivations are never fully accessible. Obviously, it's been hard. We haven't had any success lately in getting pregnant again, but it takes a while for regular ovulation to return after a pregnancy, even a terminated one, and it takes long when you're older than when you're younger.

The grand irony of it all is that I don't actually have any heavy responsibilities for the first time in as long as I can remember, and trying to get pregnant has involved having - well, I suppose this is too much information but what the hell - more and vastly better sex than I've ever had in my life. My Dutch is good enough that I can actually impress people as a rare anglo who speaks the language. I think my Chinese is improving, although it's hard to tell. My wife is actually learning French - she's in Paris right now - and has enough French that I can start to rent films in the language. My presentation in Amsterdam went well, and I think I actually managed to impress the people I wanted to impress. Perversely, things are going really well in every way except one.

Even the political scene is improving. Everyone hates Sarkozy and Villepin and generally thinks Chirac is a joke. Bush appears to be in real trouble on enough fronts that it may yet destroy him. The European economy seems to be on a real rebound.

And yet... And yet I can't write. It's not so much that I'm horrified at the thought, it's that, I just can't seem to do it.

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January 17, 2006

Apologies for lost comments

I set the anti-spam system to fairly aggressive a few months ago after cleaning out a lot of crap, but it seems its been excessively aggressive lately. Some comments have been lost. I'm trying to fix the problem.

Update: Ah jeez, I apologise terribly. I have been incredibly negligent in maintaining this blog. The spam filter that comes with MT is, to say the least, total crap. I thought it was just e-mailing me whenever there were comments needing approval, but instead it's actually sending most of them to the junk folder and never notifying me at all. I have restored almost all the comments from the junk folder and turned the filter off. All comments will now be immediately displayed and I will just delete the spam, rather than using the notification/approval system in MT.

Thanks to Tim May for e-mailing me to let me know there was a problem.

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July 20, 2006

I've mostly been writing on AFOE lately

... and not too much of that. The news is too depressing, and the summer heat is killing me. But, the server I work on is down and will stay that until Monday at least, so that will hopefully change soon.

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