Tag Archives: Orlando

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 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.

The Dudes Do ATIA Orlando 2012: Day 1. Of Cold and Heat and Things to Eat

It’s always noticeable when you start a day in the dark at 30F and end in the sunshine at 75F. Of course, traveling from the north-east of the US to Orlando, Florida, makes this easier. And as I write, I’m listening to Donald Fagen’s classic I.G.Y. from one of my most played albums, The Nightfly. [1]

The Caribe Royale Hotel and Conference Center is home to the Assistive Technology Industry Association’s (ATIA) 2012 conference, where the technorati glitterati strut their funky stuff and network with old friends, new friends, and alligators. Well, perhaps not alligators although it’s rumored that occasionally a toothy, embryonic handbag will waddle close to the fringes of the hotel, startling visitors and prompting them to make a trip to the nearby Orlando Premium Outlets to stop by the Coach or Dooney & Bourke stores.

Caribe Royale

Caribe pool and bar

Luckily for the dudes, the walk from the bar to registration avoided the Everglades and the only dangerous creatures to avoid was the guy in the rental car who hadn’t quite got the hang of where the brake pedal was (it’s the one that isn’t the gas pedal, asshole!)

The signing-in process was stunningly easy, requiring you to either scan the barcode of your e-mailed registration (which we’d left in our rooms) or to type in your surname and first three letters of you first. Only the first three! Good news for those of us who are aging a little and find counting to four something of a challenge.

The only teeny tiny flaw was that I had to ask for my “Presenter” ribbon. This, as seasoned conferencees will know, is an absolutely critical facet of life i.e. the more ribbons you can accumulate, the better! A friend of mine one year managed to stack six in a line, presenting a veritable rainbow of credentials. The more ribbons you have, the more of a “somebody” you are. Allegedly. Wandering around with just a plain badge that has “Attendee” printed on the paper pretty much marks you out as a noob and are not allowed to make eye contact with the be-ribboned luminaries. [2]

Caribe Conference Center

Today was the day of pre-sessions for those keen and eager souls who want to make the most of their time in sunny climes. However, the dudes are not signed up for any of these so, alas, we can’t report back on the content and learning objectives.

However, we can report that we were successful in finding a liquor store in order to stock up the refrigerator with bourbon and rum and beer. I hasten to add that we don’t intend to drink all this on our own (there are two of us here) but share it with a few friends during the week. We’re staying here for meetings after the conference so the aim is to just make sure we can “entertain” folks.

We must also applaud the single-mindedness of the two therapists from Chicago who I met on the shuttle to the hotel. Their plan was to be by the pool within 30 minutes of stepping off the bus and, to their credit, they were! Now that’s the conference commitment we like to see 😉

We were intending to settle in for a relaxed evening, watching the sun go down from a 5th floor balcony, sipping cocktails and gradually falling asleep in wicker chairs, only to wake at 3:00 in the morning with checkerboard asses. But we ended up in the exhibit hall for the last 40 minutes of the opening, doing a quick tour of the place to get our bearings and say hello to the folks we know.

At 7:35, exhibitors and attendees were ushered out for the evening, with the promise that we could all come back tomorrow at 10:15 a.m. Yes, that’s 10:15 – one of the very civilised aspects of ATIA is that it is exhibitor friendly and allows for folks to get a good night’s drinking sleep before the busy day ahead. Sadly for presenters, the sessions start at 8:00 a.m., which means no lazy morning starts with a leisurely hour or two sipping coffee by the pool.

To end the day, the we headed out to Dakshin, an Indian restaurant that we’d seen a few doors down from th liquor store earlier. [3] See, searching for alcohol can have wonderful and unexpected side benefits. For folks interested in Indian cuisine, we started with Wada Sambar, fried rice and lentil patties, along with Fish Cutlets, shallow pan-fried spiced fish cakes, then followed up with Kottyayam Fish Curry, swordfish with a pungent tamarind-flavored sauce, and Tikhut Kombdichi, chunks of chicken breast in a coriander and black pepper tomato-based sauce. Needless to say, we cleaned our plates – or should we say large, metal tray with dishes in them. Surprisingly, we went non-alcoholic on the drinks with a mint soda and mango lassi (a delicious mango and yogurt drink that sometimes is so thick you need an industrial vacuum to suck it up the straw!)

Dakshin Indian Restaurant

Dakshin food

The day is done. It’s after 10:00 p.m. yet below us folks are swimming in the pool and we’re sitting in shorts and T-shirts breathing in the still-warm air that actually contains a hint of humidity; something we north-easters haven’t experienced since last summer. Tomorrow the sessions start and the next post may be more educational.


[1] Strictly speaking, I’m listening to the Howard Jones version released in 1993 and appearing on his Greatest Hits album. Fagen’s The Nightfly is one of those must-have albums for anyone who aspires to being musically eclectic. It was released in 1972 and is a magical today as it ever was. And there’s nothing like driving through the night down California’s Pacific Coast Highway from Malibu to Santa Monica with Donald Fagen as a musical companion.

[2] Back in the UK, it would be customary for a man to tap doff his flat cap and say something along the lines of “beg pardon, guvnor!” and for a lady to curtsy slightly and simply say “Ma’am” and look down. Ah, those were the days!

[3] Dakshin is an old Sanskrit word meaning “south,” so the restaurant specializes in southern Indian cuisine. For completion, uttar means “north,” paschim means “west,” and poorva is “east.”