Category Archives: Miscellany

Coffee Rant: Or Why Adjectives Matter

Some years ago, I found myself reading some article about the evils of Corporate America and amongst a crowd of folks who were railing against one of the members of the Economic Axis of Evil – Starbucks. Being the misanthropic curmudgeon I am, I’m usually on the side of anyone who takes an opportunity to “stick it to the Man,” regardless of which flavor of “the Man” that may be, but in this instance, I was perversely on the side of Howard Schultz and his mighty mochaccino monolith. I was also in the minority, which also appealed to my sense of curmudgeonliness [1] and there’s a good chance that I was hyped up on caffeine too. So here’s the response, unedited and expurgated.

So some folks think that Starbucks is “too corporate” and “bland?” So they prefer the small “mom-and-pop” local coffee houses that are supposedly unique and special.

Well I say “poppycock” to their smug, preachy elitism. Why should anyone listen to a bunch of aging, sandal-toed, tofu-eating, ex-hippies who are just mad because their “organic real coffee” stores barely makes enough to keep them in muesli? These are the air-headed boomers who wanted to change the world in the 60’s, failed miserably, then joined the very same corporate world they now despise, which in turn helped them earn the money to start up the pathetic, ersatz “authentic” java joints they now run.

Excuse me for pointing out the stunningly obvious to these self-styled entrepreneurs but they seem to forget that their success comes on the back of the “coffee culture” explosion that Starbucks was instrumental in fueling. Some 20 years ago, springing fifty cents for a cup of hot brown slop from the Micky D’s drive-through was about as much as folks were willing to pay and as sophisticated as their taste reached. Now the three-dollar offering made from quality freshly ground beans is not an unusual occurrence, and the kaftan-wearing, self-important arbiters of taste have no problem selling their own free-trade farmer-friendly Guatemalan dark roast sludge for prices just under the standard Starbucks price. Oh yeah, and sometimes, no matter how much these self-appointed guardians of coffee purity bleat, their stuff is crap. Just because you know Juan Gonzales from Colombia personally and have visited his small pueblo to spend time with his wife and children doesn’t mean his stuff is good. For every coffee place that sells good, drinkable java there are ten others that, like Hans Christian Anderson’s emperor, are wearing no clothes. They talk the talk, walk the walk, but churn our bland or burned buckets of semi-drinkable swill that makes four-hour-old gas station coffee seem like nectar.

So stop your whining, you bunch of goatee-coiffed, hemp-wearing, pot-headed, jelly-brains and come back and pontificate when YOU have a multi-million dollar international organization that’s having to make decision on this sort of scale. Otherwise, go stock up on some of those home-made $2.99 granola bars that take away the taste of your insipid brew.

I chose to share this because (a) I’m too idle at the moment to write a brand new post – or to at least finish ONE of the three “draft” posts languishing in WordPress – and (b) I thought it demonstrated how there are times when the excessive use of adjectives can be used to good effect. Although most writing guides recommend the spartan use of adjectives, sometimes it’s fun to let them loose and watch them cavort and gamble happily with an otherwise sleepy collection of nouns.

Notes
[1] I doubt that curmudgeonliness is likely to catch on, and a quick check with the Corpus of Contemporary American English shows only two uses of the word; once in 1997 and another in 2008. However, what is does illustrate is how to use the process of affixation can turn a concrete noun into an abstract. Here’s the route:

(a) curmudgeon (n) -> curmudgeonly (adj)
(b) curmudgeonly (adj) -> curmudgeonliness (n)

It’s possible to change a concrete noun to an abstract directly without the intermediate adjectification by using different suffixes e.g. boy (n) -> boyhood (n); friend (n) -> friendship (n); star (n) -> stardom (n).

And one last fun fact to slip into your next party conversation; sticking an extra “bit” (or morpheme) to a word that changes it from one part-of-speech to another is called derivational morphology, whereas if it stays as the same part-of-speech it’s called inflectional morphology. Curmudgeon to curmudgeonly is derivational;  sing to singing or sings is inflectional. Go ahead, nerd out with that!

ColorBrewer: Utilizing cartography software for color coding

It seems that I am getting a reputation for being a teensy-weensy bit doryphoric [1] and that may have some truth in it insofar as I hate – with a passion – the tendency for people to use the word “utilize” rather than “use” simply because the former sounds more erudite. It’s not, in fact, erudite; it’s just plain wrong. As I’ve said in previous posts, “utilize” means “to use something in a manner for which it was not intended.” So I can “use” a paper clip to hold a set of pages together; but I can “utilize” it to scoop wax out of my ears or stab a cocktail olive in my vodka martini (shaken, not stirred).

Colorado beetle

Doryphoric

So when I titled this post with “utilizing cartography software” I really do mean that and I’m not trying to sound clever by using a four-syllable word (utilizing) over the simpler two-syllable using. No siree, I say what I mean and I mean what I say: utilize. The software in question is online at ColorBrewer: Color Advice for Cartography and its original purpose was to help map makers choose colors that provide maximum contrast. Let’s create an example. Suppose you have a map of the US and you want to use colors to show the average temperatures as three data sets; below 50F, 51F-65F, and above 65F. You can use three colors in one of three different ways:

  • (a) Sequential: Three shades of a chosen color from light to dark to indicate low to high values. e.g. Sequential color
  • (b) Diverging: Three colors that split the data equally in terms of the difference between the colors, but with the mid-range being related to a degree of difference between the extremes. Divergent color coding
  • (c) Qualitative: Three colors that split the data into three distinct groups, such as apples/oranges/bananas or trains/boats/planes – or for the statisticians out there, any nominal level data. Color coding qualitative

For a map of temperature averages, you’d choose the sequential coding so as to show the degree of change. Here’s what such a map might look like:

Three data point colors

Three data point colors

Compare this with a version whereby we chose to have six data points rather than three i.e. less that 45F; 46F-50F; 51F-55F; 56F-60F; 60F-65F; above 65F.

Six data points colors

Six data points colors

What the software does that is interesting is that it automatically generates the colors such that they are split into “chromatic chunks” that are equally different. The lowest and highest color values for each map are the same but the shades of the intermediate colors are changed. If you were to choose a set of 10 data points, the software would split those up equally.

Of course, as the number of data points increases, the perceptual difference between them decreases i.e. it becomes harder to see a difference. This is one of the limitations of any color-coding system; the more data differentials you want to show, the less useful colors become. You then have to introduce another way of differentiating – such as shapes. So if you had 20 shades of gray, it’s hard to see difference, but with 20 shades of gray and squares, triangles, rectangles and circles, you now have only 5 color points for each shape.

One of the areas where color coding is used in Speech and Language Pathology is AAC and symbols. In the system of which I am an author [2] color coding is used to mark parts of speech. But suppose you were going to invent a new AAC system and wanted to work out a color coding scheme, how might you utilize the ColorBrewer website?

If you’re going to design your system using a syntactic approach (and I highly recommend you do that because that’s how language works!) you could first identify a color set for the traditional parts of speech; VERB, NOUN, ADJECTIVE, ADVERB, PRONOUN, CONJUNCTION, PREPOSITION, and INTERJECTION [3]. This looks suspiciously like a nominal data set, which corresponds to the Qualitative coding method mentioned at (c) above. So you go to the ColorBrewer site and take a look at the panel in the top left:

ColorBrewer Panel

ColorBrewer Panel

You can set the Number of data classes to 8, the Nature of your data to qualitative, and then pick yourself a color scheme. If you chose the one in the graphic above, you see the following set recommended:

Eight color data setFor the sake of completeness, here are all the other options:

ColorDataQualSet2You can now choose one of these sets knowing that the individual colors have been generated to optimize chromatic differences.

So let’s assume we go for that very first one that starts with the green with the HTML color code #7FC97F [4]. I’m going to suggest that we then use this for the VERB group and that any graphics related to verbs will be green. Now I can move to step 2 in the process.

Verbs can actually be graded in relation to morphological inflection. There are a limited number of endings; -s, -ing, -ed, and -en. Knowing this, I can go back to the ColorBrewer site and use the sequential setting to get a selection of possible greens. This time I changed the Number of data classes to 5 and the Nature of your data to Sequential. Here’s what then see as a suggested set of equally chromatically spaced greens:


ColorDataQualPanel2

This now gives me the option to code not just verbs but verb inflections, while chromatically signaling “verbiness” by green. Here’s a symbol set for walk and write that uses the sequential – or graded – color coding:

Color-coded symbols

Color-coded symbols

If you want an exercise in AAC system design, knowing that ADJECTIVES also inflect like verbs using two inflectional suffixes, -er and -est, you can try using the ColorBrewer to create color codes [5].

There are probably many other ways to utilize the site for generating color codes. For example, you might want to create colors for Place of Articulation when using pictures for artic/phonology work, and seeing as there are a discrete number of places, it should be easy enough. Why not grab yourself a coffee and hop on over the ColorBrewer now and play. But only use it if you’re creating a map. Please!

Notes
[1] A doryphore is defined by the OED as “A person who draws attention to the minor errors made by others, esp. in a pestering manner; a pedantic gadfly.” It comes from the Greek δορυϕόρος, which means “spear carrier,” and it was originally used in the US as a name for the Colorado beetle – a notable pest. This beetle was known as “the ten-striped spearman,” hence the allusion to a spear carrier.  To then take the noun and turn it into an adjective by adding the -ic suffix meaning “to have the nature of” was a piece of cake – and a great example of using affixation to change a word’s part of speech. As always, you leave a Speech Dudes’ post far smarter than you entered it!

[2] Way back in 1993 I was invited to join the Prentke Romich Company’s R&D department as one of a team of six who were tasked with developing what became the Unity language program. The same basic program is still used in PRC devices and the language structure has been maintained such that anyone who used it in 1996 could still use it in 2014 on the latest, greatest hardware. The vocabulary also uses color coding to mark out Parts-of-Speech but not exactly like I have suggested in this article. Maybe next time…?

[3] The notion of 8 Parts-of-Speech (POS) is common in language teaching but as with many aspects of English, it’s not 100% perfect. For example, words like the, a, and an can be categorized under Adjectives or added to a class of their own called Articles or – by adding a few more – Determiners. So you might see some sources talking about 9 Parts-of-Speech, and I like to treat these as separate from adjectives if only because they seem to behave significantly differently from a “typical” adjective. Another confounding factor is that some words can skip happily between the POS and create minor havoc; light is a great example of this. The take-away from this is that sometimes, words don’t always fit into neat little slots and you need to think about where best to put them and how best to teach them.

[4] In the world of web sites, colors are handled in code by giving them a value in hexadecimal numbers – that’s numbers using base 16 rather than the familiar base 10 of regular numbers. Black is #000000 and white is #FFFFFF. When you’re working on designing web pages, it’s sometimes useful to be able to tell a programmer that you want a specific color, and if you can give them the precise hex code – such as #FF0000 for red and #0000FF for blue – then it makes their job easier and you get exactly what you need. You can also something called RGB codes to described colors, based on the way in which the colors (R)ed, (G)reen and (B)lue are mixed on a screen. Purple, for example, is (128,0,128) and yellow is (255, 255, 0). Take a look at this Color Codes page for more details and the chance to play with a color picker.

[5] I suppose I should toss in a disclaimer here that I’m not suggesting that creating an AAC system is “simply” a matter of collecting a lot of pictures with colored outlines and then dropping them into a piece of technology. There is much more to it than that (ask me about navigation next time you see me at a conference) so consider this article just one slice of a huge pie.

Haiku Dudes – or Haiku’s for the Dudes

As part of our “Countdown to Christmas” giveaway, our question for Day 14 invited folks to send us a haiku that was dude-ish. Here are the entries.

Haiku picture1. Celebrate winter
Porter, stout, bock, barleywine
Mmh, lager and ale!
From Acey Holmes (@aceymorgan)

2. Speech Dudes play Santa
While lights adorn evergreens
Joy of the Season!
From Cyndee Williams Bowen (@BowenSpeech)

3. Fingers clutching cold
Icy spray across my face
Snowblower Holiday joy!
From Gail Van Tatenhove (@gvantatenhove)

4. Santa Claus Speech Dudes
Covertly making us think…
Sly educators!
From Lillian Stiegler

Although we like them all, we DID say we’d make a choice so Dude 1 went for Lillian’s haiku and Dude 2 for Acey’s. Coffee’s are now on the way to you both. Thanks for taking part and keep an eye open for our next competition in 2014!

Dudes’ Eye View: Video Review of 2013

So we’re into Year 3 of creating the Dudes’ Eye View review of the year – and this time it’s for 2013. Seven more years and we’ll have a decade’s worth of video! You can also download the MP3 soundtrack, also created by the fevered mind of Dude 1.

The special extended “extended Tap mix” is now available here: https://app.box.com/s/d6oii9eg7pi32x4ts4lt

Tech Notes
For those who are interested in the software I use, here’s the list!

  • Corel VideoStudio Pro X5
  • Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3
  • Sony Acid Studio 9
  • Audacity 2.0.5

If you’re interested in hiring a Dude to help create your own video and music, drop us an e-mail ;)

Countdown to Christmas – Question 24: Christmas Eve!

OK folks, that’s it – there is no more! Our virtual advent calendar ends today, leaving you all to open that magical 25th door tomorrow, where – when I was a kid – you’d find a piece of Cadbury chocolate and a picture of the baby Jesus in a straw-lined trough.

So as we come to the end of our super-fabulous coffee-giveaway extravaganza, our last question is also about last things. Coming up right after this video of Steely Dan’s “The Last Mall” from their Everything Must Go album.

A syllable is usually defined a having three distinct segments; the ONSET, the NUCLEUS, and the… what?

ANSWER: Coda!

A few folks offered RIME (or RHYME) as the solution, and in fairness, we should acknowledge that this might be OK. However, when one talks about the three segments that have ONSET and NUCLEUS as the first two, the third is CODA. In the two-part description, one does indeed see ONSET and RIME, but the rime is defined as consisting of the NUCLEUS + CODA, or, in an open syllable, the CODE is absent. So, coda is what we wanted, which also fits in with the idea that this is the “end” of the contest – and coda means “end.”

Syllable structureLinks

The Syllable and the Foot from Macquarie University: nice overview.

Explore syllable structures across languages at the World Atlas of Language Structures online.

 

Countdown to Christmas – Question 22: Sunday 22nd December

What was the name of the Speech Therapist who worked with the Aflac duck during 2013, as part of the rehab team nursing him back to health after a tragic accident?

(a) Angela Webster

(b) Allison Weber

(c) Andrea Westinghouse

(d) Amanda West

ANSWER: Allison Weber.

Played by Atlanta actress Jammie Patton, Allison Weber is part of a multi-disciplinary rehabilitation team dedicated to bringing the Aflac duck back to full health.

Links

Actress Jammie Patton talks about working with “duck royalty.”

Countdown to Christmas – Question 21: Saturday 21st December

You are asked to evaluate a client who has had a stroke. Which one of the following tests is most appropriate?

(a) BDAE-3

(b) BDI-2

(c) BLT-2

(d) BTAIS-2

Therapy interview

ANSWER: BDAE-3: The Boston Diagnostic Aphasia Examination – Third Edition.

The BDAE has been around for some time now – one of the Dudes was using it in the 1980’s! – and it’s now in its third edition. It’s designed to determine and distinguish disorders of language function and neurologically recognized aphasic syndromes.  The test contains a short form for rapid access to diagnostic classification and quantitative assessment.

The BDI-2 is the Batelle Development Inventory and screens, diagnoses, and evaluates children from infancy to age 8. Domains include personal-social, adaptive, motor, communication, and cognitive.

The BLT is the Bankson Language Test for kids aged 3:00 to 7:00. It aims to measure children’s psycholinguistic skills in the three general categories of semantic knowledge, morphological/syntactical rules, and pragmatics. Not to be confused with the sandwich of the same name!

The BTAIS-2 is the Birth to Three Assessment and Intervention System, which screens language comprehension and expression, nonverbal thinking, and motor development.

Links

The Directory of Speech-Language Pathology Assessments collated by ASHA.

The BDAE from PsychCorp, a part of Pearson Education, Inc.

Countdown to Christmas – Question 20: Friday 20th December

So tonight, Dude 2 is going to sit in front of his TV, and wrap up watching the final episodes of Season 3 of The Walking Dead, a few more episodes of Downton Abbey, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  In my never ending desire to know what happens before it happens – reading the last chapter before the first, or watching spoilers despite the alerts – I have a few questions about the Diving Bell and the Butterfly and hopefully your accuracy and correctness will result in a quiet 15 minutes with a wonderful cup of joe… so here goes. 

  1. What scanning technique is used by Dominique Bauby to write his book?
  2. What syndrome was he diagnosed with?
  3. The title of the movie is a metaphor of how Bauby describes himself.  What part of his body is represented by the butterfly?

Good Luck and may you not encounter any zombies while wrapping up your Holiday shopping.   

Tweet your answers to @speechdudes and as it’s so close to Christmas, we’ll give you 24 hours from now.

Countdown to Christmas – Question 19: Thursday 19th December

You only have a few hours for this one! Dude 2 actually wanted to tweet it at 11:59 PM! But it’s a one-word answer so an easy win for someone. What word is used to describe the automatic repetition of vocalizations made by another person?

ANSWER: Echolalia!

Echolalia is the repetition of vocalizations made by another person and can be present in autism, Asperger syndrome, aphasia, schizophrenia, and other forms of psychopathology. Echoing speech and behavior is actually a normal feature of development but when it becomes persistent to the exclusion of generative speech and actions it becomes a pathological state.

The word comes from the Greek ekho (ἠχώ) meaning a repetition of sounds, and lalia (λαλιά) meaning “to speak or talk.” Echo is also a character from Greek mythology who was a nymph cursed by Juno so that she could only repeat the last few words of anyone she heard.

Echo and Narcissus

Links

About echolalia from Synapse in Australia

The myth of Echo and Narcissus from Ovid

Countdown to Christmas – Question 18: Wednesday 18th December

As many of us prepare to fly prior to Christmas Day, it’s worth remembering that the chances of being involved in a fatal air accident are 1 in 29 million. You actually have more chance of being eaten by a shark (1 in 11 million) or killed in an accident with a lawn mower (1 in 3 million).

AirplaneSo given that air travel is statistically stunningly safe, which part of the flight is most likely to be fatal?

(a) Take off

(b) Initial climb to cruising altitude

(c) Descent

(d) Landing

ANSWER: Takeoff

According to 2012 statistics, here are the percentage fatalities based on the portion of a flight:

Taxi, load/unload, parked, tow 0 %
Takeoff 16%
Initial Climb 14 %
Climb (flaps up) 13 %
Cruise 16 %
Descent 4 %
Initial Approach 12 %
Final Approach 13 %
Landing 12 %

Flying is easy – it’s not hitting the ground hard and fast that’s the tricky part ;)

An underlying issue here is that when you think about the dangers of any activity, it’s important to be prepared to look at any actual evidence that’s available to evaluate the reality. For example, although the perception of flying is that it seems more dangerous that using a lawn mower, the numbers tell us otherwise. Similarly the belief that terrorists are lurking around every  corner ready to kill you and your loved ones is stronger than the numbers. An interesting post from earlier this year showed that you are more likely to be killed by a toddler than a terrorist (number of terrorist deaths on US soil in 2103=3; number of people shot by toddlers=5).

The point is that using evidence and statistics is to be preferred over perceptions and feelings. This is, of course, easier said than done because human beings respond at an emotional level much more intensely and frequently than they do at a rational level.  If there’s a clash between our personal beliefs and statistics, we will always blame the statistics – which is like saying we believe a sample size of 1 versus a sample size of millions.

List

Airplane crash statistics: from 2012.

Statistics Brain: a good site to explore all manner of statistical information.