Tag Archives: ATIA 2013

The Dudes Do ATIA 2013: Day 3 – Of Dining and Data

Today was a day of meetings. Fortunately, the first was at a delightful restaurant; the Thai Thani  on International Drive in Orlando. Being an Indian curry lover, I opted for the Curry Fried Rice with chicken, and wasn’t disappointed. One of the house specialities is a pineapple yellow fried rice curry with a choice of beef, chicken or pork, stir fried with raisins, cashews, and onions but I wanted something less fruity so I’ll save this special for another visit.

Thay Thani restaurant

Thai Thani Orlando

Following two more meetings, I did the first of my two joint-presentations. I usually fly solo – then there’s only me to blame of things go wrong – but this year I tried sharing. And this one was on one of my favorite topics: automated data collection and analysis with AAC devices. The content was similar to the presentation I gave at ASHA 2012 and which has already been documented in The Dudes Do ASHA 2012: Day 4, so feel free to click and read that.

What wasn’t discussed in that older post was the way on which the word data itself can tell us something about language change over time. So try this quick test – and don’t spend too long thinking about the answer:

Which is these statements is correct:

(a) The data is good.

(b) The data are good.

If you answered (b), then you are in the company of the good people at the  Oxford English Dictionary (and that’s not bad company to be in) and the hearts of die-hard grammatical prescriptivists [1].

But if you answered (a), then you are not that different from the population of the English-speaking world as a whole because the is and the are seem to be in free variation! If you take a look at the Corpus of Historical American English, you’ll see that in terms of frequency of use, they don’t seem to differ that much since the 1930’s, and you can make a case, I suppose, for arguing that the is-form has edged ahead of the are-form.

Take a look at these charts that track use since 1830.

The word data and the verb is

“The data is…”

Notice that “data is…” was being used at the turn of the century and peaked in the 1990’s. Compare that with the “data are…” instances:

The word Data and the word Are

The data are…

There are hardly any examples prior to the 1930’s and from the 1960’s onward, both is and are appear to be neck and neck in terms of usage.

So why does this happen? What is it that makes data such a tough word for folks to decide whether it should be used with is or are? The answer – or a t least part of it – is related to our understanding of whether a noun is a count noun or a mass noun.

For those saner readers who are less obsessed with language than this Dude, count nouns are – unsurprisingly! – those that can be counted. So dog, cat, shoe, table, boat, and cup, are all count nouns because we can talk about “three cups” or “five shoes” or “a room full of dogs.” With a count noun, you’re usually able to turn it into its plural form by adding an “s.”

On the other hand, a mass noun cannot be counted. Pork, education, furniture, and weather, cannot be used with a number or pluralized by adding an “s.” You don’t have “*three weathers” or “*a room full of furnitures.”

Data is one of those words that has become a mass noun, even though it was originally a count noun. And by “originally,” I mean going back to Latin, where the singular was datum and the plural was data. What often happens with foreign words that are imported into English is that we apply regular English rules to them. On that basis, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see datums – but it didn’t happen 😉

What appears to have happened is that the word data has become a synonym for information, and folks feel that if “the information is good” sounds OK, then so does “the data is good.”

Incidentally, there is a way to turn a countable noun into a mass noun by using a rather gruesome linguistic device called a “universal grinder [2].” Suppose that in a frantic effort to catch a bird that has found its way into your house, you cat leaps up into the air and accidentally hits a rapidly rotating heavy fan. Saddened by its untimely demise, you might, through your tragic sobs, explain to someone over the phone that, “There is cat all over the room.” In this situation, a regular count noun has suddenly transformed into a mass noun.

Kitten playing with a fan

Careful, Mr. Tibbles!

Equally, in certain circumstances, some mass nouns can take on the appearance of a count noun. Although water is typically a mass noun, you might be in a restaurant and remark  that, “there are four or five waters already on the table.” Needless to say, folks learning English have a bit of a struggle trying to learn the difference between them as the only rule seems to be that liquids and powders (amorphous items) tend to be mass nouns, and the rest are count.

The learning point from all this – and we’re trying to be recognized as an educational blog as well as providing entertainment – is that when we are evaluating someone’s ability to use language, it’s critical to be aware of the fact that sometimes the prescribed way of speaking may actually be in free variation with the popular way, and this is actually one of the ways in which language changes over time [3].

For the sake of completeness, the day ended with wine, pizza, beer (mass noun), and a cocktail before bed. Needless to say I fell asleep quickly.

[1] In the world of language mavens, there are constant arguments between prescriptivists, who take the line that there are “correct” ways to say things, and descriptivists, who say that so long as you can be understood, there ain’t no right and wrong.  Although I’m more often the prescriptivist boat, I’m happy to jump ship depending on my mood – and whether I want to just get into a bit of a row with someone just for the hell of it.

[2] The Universal Grinder is a linguistic thought experiment first written about by Francis Pelletier, who used it in a paper talking about the nature of count versus mass nouns. Pelletier didn’t use household pets and rotating blades as his examples but the Dudes feel more at home with Edgar Allan Poe as a role model than, say,  Noam Chomksy or Stephen Pinker.

Pelletier, F.  J. 1975. Non-Singular Reference: Some Preliminaries. Philosophia 5.

[3] A pretty comprehensive coverage of how and why languages change over time can be found in Larry Trask’s 2010 book Why Do Languages Change? For those who want the Dude notes, you can click on the following Dude Link to get the 38-page summary. Link to book summary


The Dudes Do ATIA 2013: Day 2 – Of Schedules, Starbucks, and Support

Having a Master’s degree may qualify you to practice as a Speech Pathologist or Special Educator but it doesn’t prepare you for one of life’s trickiest of tasks: planning your schedule at a conference [1]. If you have a Ph.D. in Cryptography or 20 years of Project Management experience, you might just be able to get through two days before everything falls apart and you end up crying into your cocktail at the pool bar. Otherwise the best strategy is to walk into any room at random and when the session ends, follow a group into another. Given that 75% of all the sessions at a conference are going to contain information you’ll find useful, statistically speaking you’re likely to find the random approach very productive.

However, this year, the folks at ATIA  made it really easy to keep track of your time by offering a free mobile app for Android and Apple platforms. You could also use a web-based version but that has been available before – and it’s the app version that’s more useful while wandering around the conference hall. Unlike some folks who seem to be happy to carry around a bag the size of a small car, I’m more inclined to adopt a minimalist approach and try to carry as little as possible. This means my wallet (back right-hand pocket), trusty Droid 3 (front left-hand pocket), fountain pen of the day (front right-hand pocket), and bright red Quo Vadis notebook (carried). And this year, instead of stuffing sheets of paper with session information into my notebook, I downloaded the ATIA app to my Droid and all was well!

ATIA 2013 app feedback

ATIA 2013 app feedback

The feedback on the app shows that most folks have it on an iPad, then iPhone, and finally an Android. It would have been nice if the feedback had offered a “No sir, I don’t like it” rather than the biased “Tell us what you like it on” but presumably the reasoning is that folks who don’t like it won’t use it. Still, maybe next time…

There was another amazing piece of Assistive Technology I stumbled across for the first time this year; the Starbucks vending machine! OK, so maybe you don’t count this as “assistive technology” but it certainly helped me.

Starbucks AT

Starbucks AT

All you do is pop a cup under the spigot, swipe a credit card or debit card, press a few buttons, and out pops a cup of Starbucks’ java without the need to talk to a human being. Or in the case of the Caribe Royale Conference Center, without the need to get into a car, head out of the hotel, take two right turns, drive about a mile, and pull up at the nearest actual Starbucks store.

The exhibit hall was busy during the morning. As might be expected, it was awash with tablets, all looking surprisingly the same as everyone and their dog joins in the frenzy to create the “next great AAC app” which looks just like the “last great AAC app.” And in an effort to adapt tablets to do the job of a dedicated AAC device, you can now attach an array of “peripherals” that are doing a great job of completely destroying the idea that having an iPad “makes you look like everyone else.” By the time you’ve bought a box to fit it in, speakers to make it louder, an interface box to add a switch, and a mounting kit to make it fit to a wheelchair, the thing looks more like a Rube Goldberg/Heath Robinson contraption than a sleek piece of technology.

In the new world order of consumer AAC, there is no “evaluation” along traditional lines. Rather than assess an individual to determine their needs and then select from a range of potential devices, the new consumer goes to Best Buy, asks the “expert” which iPad to buy, and then looks for anything on iTunes with 4 stars and downloads it. Problem solved.

But of course, it isn’t. Those of us who have been in AAC since the advent of the personal computer in the 80’s (and yes, there WERE devices with speech output before the iPad, whatever Apple may want you to believe) know that just dropping a device in someone’s lap – sometimes literally – does not solve the problem. In fact, simply providing a piece of technology and then walking away is called abdication, not intervention. There is a frightening tendency to think that “there’s an app for that” applies to everything, when there are many, many factors involved in helping someone succeed with an AAC system.

I’ll say again, because Apple zealots seem to disagree with me, that my beef is not with technology – and being in the technology and software vending game myself should be proof enough of the pudding – but with the lack of support given in the choosing, teaching, and long-term supporting of clients with communication needs, the solution to which is only partly aided by a device, whatever flavor that may be. I do not doubt the sincerity of anyone who is trying to help provide a way for folks with communication impairments to express themselves. But when there are over 150 apps labeled as “AAC” apps, how does anyone decide which to use? And more fundamentally, once a choice is made, how do you then support it – because I guarantee that no matter how much money your school district is spending on providing “communication solutions,” it’s spending a whole lot less on employing more staff to actually support it! If it took one teacher 2 hours a week to work with one kiddo with an AAC device, how many does it take to work with 5 kids with iPads? The answer appears to be “one, because that person has to work 5 times harder.”

Cartoon of man exercising

OK, rant over. I’ve taken a deep breath and a shot of tequila [2] and am beginning to mellow. Tomorrow sees me doing the first of my presentations and having to go to several meetings. Thank goodness I have the ATIA conference app to remind me of when and where I need to be for my session!

[1] There is another conference-based task that has a similar level of complexity; splitting the bill at a restaurant. It’s inevitable that if you’re doing it right, at some stage during a conference you’ll have a rollicking, riotous good time with a bunch of new and old friends at some great restaurant or bar. Until the check arrives and you have to split the bill 14 ways. This not only causes your server to suffer from raised blood pressure (“Can we have separate checks – all 14 of us?”) but there’s no way anyone wants to simply divide the bill by 14 because Annette, Betty, and Cheryl shared two bottles of wine, but Erica only drank water, and Frank and Gerry were having a shot-drinking contest, while Harry insisted on a fresh lobster but Ian only had soup and a salad, and only Jan, Karen, and Larry had a desert…

The best way to address this one is to wait until ONE person goes to the restroom and then everyone else makes a run for it. This won’t, of course, work twice with the same group.

[2] If you read yesterday’s post and recognized this sentence as an example of syllepsis, congratulations! If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, go there right now and find out what syllepsis is 😉

The Dudes Do ATIA 2013: Day 1 – Of Disclosures and Data

As if to prove that “the best-laid plans o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley,” one of the Dudes has had to cancel his trip to the ATIA conference here in Orlando, along with his presentation on eye gaze evaluation and implementation for children. Fortunately we’ll be able to make the notes available in a few days time, so check back or follow us on Twitter as @speechdudes.

The other Dudes – which would be me – is therefore left with the task of making sure folks get their dose of comments and observations inspired by the conference [1].

And these start with as a result of watching Jeff Smizek, the President and CEO of United Airlines, at the beginning of the flight to Orlando International. YOU may have to swipe your credit card to watch TV shows and movies on the tiny screen at the back of the chairs of a United Airlines Boeing 737-800, but Jeff Smizek’s little promo pieces are always free. In the latest, he enthuses over the new “control center” for the company based on one floor of the Willis Tower, former called the Sears Tower, in Chicago. From here, he extols, all of United’s operations are controlled and monitored in a state-of-the-art facility.

Boeing 737-800

Boeing 737-800

So Jeff, if something were to happen to the Willis Tower facility, wouldn’t that be a “bad thing?” And wasn’t the last time the words “Willis” and “Tower” seen together in the movie Die Hard when Bruce Willis battled against terrorists who took over the Nakatomi Tower? Do you really want to announce to anyone who flies United anywhere in the world the address of the entire company’s nerve center? Call me paranoid, but couldn’t the marketing department find something else to promote – like plane safety, passenger-centric improvements, or a short piece on how airline food is made? Just sayin’, Jeff.

During flights, I take the opportunity to catch up on reading materials that have been piling up over the weeks, which on this trip included the latest copy of Bloomberg Businessweek. What caught my eye was an article on the growth in the Dubai economy. Now I know you’re thinking –  “But Dude, what has this to do with Speech Pathology or Special Education?” Bear with me.

Consider the following paragraph taken from the article;

Rewa Zeinati, a freelance writer in Dubai, has noticed more business cards with photos of scantily clad women offering massages piling up on her car windscreen lately. “Sometimes I’m away for 30 minutes and come back to find a stack of them, ” says Zeinati. “I’ve definitely seen an increase this year.”

For those wanting to learn about experimental design, what we have here is a rather memorable example of the research dynamic duo of validity and reliability. You see, whenever you measure something (length, temperature, density, hair color, foot odor, number of toes etc., the two big questions you typically want answered are whether the test you apply actually measures what it is you are supposed to be measuring, and are these measures accurate.

Take, for example, the masochistic morning activity in which many of us indulge; checking our weight on the bathroom scales. Of late, the numbers I’ve been seeing having demonstrated – how shall I put it? – an “ascendant tendency.” My wife, on the other hand, would say, “You’re getting fat.”

My hope may be that there is a problem with the scales. Unfortunately, they seem to be reliable because they are consistent. By that I mean if I step off the scales and then back on, if they still show me at 170 lbs, they are consistent i.e. reliable. And if they appear to show my weight increasing slowly over time, and don’t suddenly drop to 130 lbs one day and up to 250 lbs on another, that’s more evidence of the reliability.

Bag of flour

Bag of flour

The next line of defense is to argue that the scales are mis-calibrated and are adding an extra 20 lbs to my “real” weight. They are, in fact, lacking in validity – they are not really measuring what they are supposed to be measuring. My wife then grabs two bags of flour from the kitchen, each weighing 5 lbs, and drops them on the scales. The first one shows up as 5 lbs, the second as 10 lbs. She then has me stand on the scales holding the flour and tragically the scales show 180 lbs. Validity confirmed, I walk off in a huff and sign up for a WeightWatchers class [2].

In the case of the Dubai economy, the first assumption of validity is that massage services are dependent on how much money is sloshing around in the economy, and that if folks have more disposable income, they spend more on executive relief. So if there are more cards appearing offering such services, this is an indicator that the economy is on the rise [3].  On the other hand, we might want to argue the reverse; that as an economy declines, people seek temporary relief from the misery of privation by seeking solace in the company of a masseuse, so more cards equals shrinking economy. Readers of the classic Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy may recognize this as a variation on “Shoe Event Horizon” theory.

So it may be that the underlying assumption of the argument from the Businessweek article fails the validity test.

The other assumption is that the measuring rod – the number of cards on a windshield – is not accurate. Does each card measure X amount of “positive economy” or does the number of cards just fluctuate randomly over time? Without more longitudinal data – and looking at more cars than just Ms. Zeinati’s would also be critical.

So the card counting method may turn out to fail the validity test.

The Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning has a simple, readable overview of validity and reliability as part of an on-line  tutorial about measurement in the social sciences, so it’s worth taking a look.

Signing in for the conference was a piece of cake. In fact, it was possibly the easiest sign in I’ve had for a while. A couple of days prior to arriving, ATIA sent me a confirmation email that included a bar code. All I needed to do was walk up to the desk at the conference hall, open the email on my smartphone, and wave the bar code at a sensor. My badge was automatically printed out and the only human element needed was for a person to put the paper with my name on it into a plastic holder. The day cannot be far off when even that job will be replace by having me fold my own paper and drop it into a holder I pluck out of a large box.

Registration barcode

Registration barcode

Dinner was at the Tropicale restaurant, one of the Caribe Royale’s on-site venues that I’ve eaten at many times, and I enjoyed a most excellent fire-roasted vegetable risotto served with chicken, asparagus tips, tomato fondue, and shaved Asiago. Delish! By the time dinner was over and beer had been consumed, my 5:00 am start ensured I was asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow.

[1] As we’ve mentioned before, our posts during conferences are not intended to be a comprehensive review of what’s happening but a series of reflections on what our conference experiences bring to mind. Rather than take 1000 words to outline the features and functions of an iPad app, we’re more likely to riff on the name of the app or mercilessly skewer one tiny aspect. If we say that H.L. Mencken is a role model, you’ll catch our drift.

[2] Astute – or anal – readers may want to raise the objection that we’re now making an assumption about the validity of using the bags of flour as a reference point. What if the makers of the flour have been unscrupulously shorting the contents by 0.2 lbs? Duly noted. It’s a fundamental issue in all measurement that whatever standards we use have to be valid – or assumed to be valid.

[3] I was tempted to use the phrase “…the economy and male anatomy are on the rise,” which is not only puerile play on the word rise but an example of something called syllepsis – a form of sentence where two or more parts of a sentence are yoked together by a common verb or noun, more often than not for humorous effect. Dorothy Parker allegedly once said, “It’s a small apartment. I’ve barely enough room to lay my hat and a few friends.” The sylleptic aspect comes from the dual meaning of the verb “to lay” and this type of humorous device is often called a pun – all be it a special version of a pun.